N.B. will turn to collaborative care clinics to address primary care shortages

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N.B. says it will turn to collaborative care clinics to address primary care shortages
WATCH: While New Brunswick continues to roll out the NB Health Link program to connect people with temporary primary health-care providers, it’s struggling to provide permanent health care arrangements. Silas Brown reports – Sep 5, 2023

New Brunswick’s deputy health minister says the province will be turning to collaborative care practices to try and address the shortfall in primary health care professionals.

“Collaborative practice needs to be an aspect that is looked at very, very closely,” Eric Beaulieu told the legislature’s public accounts committee on Tuesday.

“That is what the department and both regional health authorities are working quite hard on, is the establishment and establishment of collaborative practices.”

Right now there are 24,717 people on the Patient Connect list, which was the old method of finding a primary health care provider. Over the last 18 months the province has been moving people to the NB Health Link program, which provides people with access to primary care while they wait to be matched with a permanent provider.

There are 32,107 people on that list and just 1,853 have found a permanent spot with a doctor or nurse practitioner.

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Beaulieu said the number of people on the NB Health Link list will grow once the program rolls out to the last two health zones in Bathurst and Saint John next week. With the province’s rising population, Beaulieu says it will be positive just to keep the number of people in the program steady.

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“As the population grows and new individuals settle into New Brunswick the number of individuals that need a primary care provider keeps increasing in the province so just being able to maintain the same number without a primary care provider is still a gain,” he said.

In order to begin tackling that list and matching people with more permanent primary care arrangements, Beaulieu says the province will emphasize collaborative care practices, or offices where multiple different practitioners work under the same roof to provide services to a large pool of patients. He says that will hopefully begin to boost the number of people who have timely access to primary care.

“We do expect that there will be a greater attachment level in a collaborative practice than a solo practice,” he said. “We also expect that it will increase the speed of access.

“Depending on what the patient is presenting with, they may not need to see the physician, they may see the nurse within the facility, a dietitian, or whatever other allied health professional is part of the collaborative practice.”

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According to the latest primary care survey from the New Brunswick Health Council, 85.4 per cent of New Brunswickers have access to a primary health care provider, down from 86 per cent in 2020 and 90.4 per cent in 2017.

The survey also says that just 34.1 per cent of people can get an appointment with their provider within five days, down from 50.8 per cent in 2020.

That data has Liberal health critic Rob McKee saying the province needs to accelerate its plans for collaborative care clinics now.

“We need to move in the direction of these permanent home collaborative care practices,” he said.

“A sharing of resources, of people in the offices that can alleviate some of the pressure on the general practitioner to see more patients in a quicker fashion.”

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