After almost three years trying to recruit more physicians to Lake Country, doctors at the Lake Country Health Centre have put together a proposal to Interior Health on a new way of providing health care in the community.
Dr. Tim Murphy says since the retirement of two doctors a few years ago, the clinic—which has four family practices—is looking to change into a multi-disciplinary facility where patients could not only see a doctor but also where health specialists and nurse practitioners would be available for patients to see as a the first point of contact.
“We have been advertising in every journal provincially and nationally and have had residents come in and be taught here,” explained Murphy, who said many people in Lake Country don’t have a family doctor and all four practices in the district are jammed full. “We have not had a physician that wants to come and relocate here. I think it’s a commentary that many physicians don’t want to come to this style of practice. They want to work in a different setting and in different kinds of primary care.”
Murphy said many new doctors are looking for a different setting than the traditional family practice where a physician carries a lot of overhead with staff and costs of running a large practice adding new doctors also have plenty of choice with shortages right across the country.
And with three of the remaining five doctors (two of them split one practice) in Lake Country over the age of 58, time is of the essence to either find new doctors or a new system.
“All of our physicians have been here for decades and everyone of them feels a responsibility to the community we live in,” said Murphy, who has been working in Lake Country since 1984. “For me it’s been a great job and continues to be a great job but looking at the volume of people that need care and the fact we’re not able to provide some for the support, we need to look down the road. All the physicians here are not leaving and are committed to finding a solution but we’d like to hope down the road, when we retire, there is better health care system as opposed to closing our practice. We’re doing everything we can to set it up.”
For the past six months, the Lake Country Health Centre has been working with Interior Health, looking into a new system for delivering care. Under the proposal, patients would not have to first see a family doctor for certain conditions and the health clinic would have numerous other health professionals working there and seeing patients.
“Interior Health is currently working with the Lake Country physicians and community partners to ensure we meet their future medical needs,” said Dr. Curtis Bell, the executive medical director of community and residential services at Interior Health. “We are developing a joint proposal for a health centre which will be reviewed by community physicians, other community health providers, community partners and community members.”
In Lake Country, Dr. Murphy says in the end it will have to be a political decision to change the way health care is provided in the province.
“The trend everywhere, not just in Canada, is to completely change the face of primary care and go to a multi-disciplinary clinic to provide more comprehensive care,” said Murphy. “Instead of the physician being the only first-point of primary care, other health care professionals who are expert in their area, can become the first contact.”
This system would free up doctors to deal with patients as opposed to having to first visit their general practitioner as a first step. Murphy said among those health experts would be dietitians, nurse practitioners, diabetic nurses, counsellors, pharmacists, social workers and more.
“It’s gone that way in other areas and it has been successful,” said Murphy, pointing to country’s like Sweden. “If you look at the baby boomers and the number of people getting older, there are not enough family doctors.”
Murphy said the change would take some time but in the long run something needs to happen with doctor shortages across the country. And he said doctors alone can’t make it happen.
“This is a change in philosophy and a huge investment for the community,” he said. “It has to be some sort of combined process with physicians, Interior Health, the municipality, businesses in the community,” he said. “This is not an investment that physicians alone can do there has to be many partners to make this work.”