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Doctors’ group works together to connect locals to family physicians
A new provincial program has been initiated to try and ensure thousands of B.C. residents – including hundreds across the South Okanagan – can have regular access to a family physician.
Family physicians in the communities of Oliver, Osoyoos and Okanagan Falls have come together to help children and their immediate families in these three communities gain access to a family physician through the new A GP For Me initiative, said Dr. Garnett Tarr, the Osoyoos physician who is spearheading the local campaign.
The provincial Ministry of Health has established 33 divisions across the province that are being led by physicians from each division, said Tarr.
“Each community will be looking at coming up with ways that serve their own specific needs and will work best to try and provide all members of the community with access to a general practitioner,” said Tarr.
A group of area physicians between Osoyoos and Okanagan Falls are looking at a model that would allow young patients to have direct access to a family doctor on a rotating basis in the coming months, said Tarr.
Dr. Steve Evans, an Oliver physician, said the GP For Me initiative is all about expanding and improving healthcare services to all members of the community, especially those who have, for whatever reason, been unable to get access to a general practitioner.
“There are more than 1,500 children under the age of 19 in our three communities that at many points in their lives have or will need access to primary healthcare,” said Evans, a local doctor in Oliver and a member of the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice. “We know that a number of these children do not have a family doctor, which can result in unnecessary visits to the emergency room, or preventable health issues.”
The SOS Division is one of 33 Divisions of Family Practice in BC. Funded by a joint committee of the provincial government and Doctors of BC, Divisions are not-for-profit community based groups of family physicians working together to achieve common health care goals.
“We are thrilled that local communities within our region are taking on an initiative such as this to connect children in need to family doctors” says Dr. Murali Venkataraman, physician lead and vice-chair of the SOS Division. “We will continue to do whatever we can to support our colleagues in creating local solutions to improving access to primary healthcare”.
This local project is part of the SOS Division’s contribution to the provincewide A GP for Me initiative also funded by the Government of BC and the Doctors of BC to help British Columbians without a doctor to find one, and to strengthen capacity in the primary care system.
A group of local citizens were recruited through a media and publicity campaign to meet with program leaders during a “focus group” on Wednesday at the Sonora Community Centre.
“Those participating in the focus group will be asked to voice their opinions about what they think is working (in the healthcare system) and what needs to be improved,” said Terrie Crawford, a team leader with the A GP For Me program. “We’re in the assessment phase, so we will be gathering information from regular citizens during these focus groups and working with local physicians to come up with a game plan to deliver the services that meet the needs of each individual community.”
A survey of more than 500 citizens from the three communities will also take place as part of the assessment phase of the program, she said.
The goal is to establish an action plan to improve services and expand exposure to general practitioners in each community by March of 2015, said Crawford.
“This is all about working with the community to come up with creative solutions,” she said.
In smaller communities like Osoyoos, it may take a “team approach” among local physicians to provide services to those residents who don’t have a family doctor, said Tarr.
Other possibilities include regular phone consultations and regular meetings between patient groups and physicians, he said.
Parents or guardians of a child in need of a family doctor, and living in the communities of Oliver, Osoyoos and Okanagan Falls, can call Lorri Depourcq at the South Okanagan General Hospital at 250-498-5051 to make a request.
The child will then be connected to one of the area family doctors who is accepting new patients on a rotational system.
A GP for Me is a joint initiative of the Government of BC and Doctors of BC – formerly the BC Medical Association – aimed at strengthening the health care system by supporting the relationship between patients and family doctors.
The Divisions of Family Practice initiative is funded by a joint committee of the B.C. Ministry of Health and Doctors of B.C. As of April 2014, there are 33 Divisions of Family Practice in B.C. that encompass 129 communities.