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NEWS RELEASE · 24th June 2010
Ministry of Health Services
The Province's ongoing overhaul of its primary health-care system is being made stronger with a $137-million investment to strengthen service delivery, ensure patients are full participants in their care and provide every British Columbian who wants a family doctor with one by 2015, Health Services Minister Kevin Falcon announced today.

This unique integrated model of primary and community care will see family physicians working in collaboration with the Province, the BC Medical Association (BCMA), regional health authorities and other health-care professionals, including medical specialists, to provide better care for patients with chronic diseases, seniors and complex health needs.

"Ensuring that British Columbians have access to their own family doctor - a health professional who is familiar with their medical history - can drastically improve health outcomes for patients and in doing so, can help ensure the sustainability of our health system." said Falcon. "This shift will change the patient's journey through the health system and care so patients receive consistent and appropriate care through their family doctor over a lifetime."

"Some exceptional work is being done in B.C. to improve how primary care is delivered and it is yielding some impressive results" said BCMA president Dr. Ian Gillespie. "The move to connect more people with a family doctor of their own and to do a better job of integrating their total care is another important step in our work together with government and the health authorities."

The objective is clear, all British Columbians will have access to a family physician but the Province will also focus on specific patient groups. Under the new primary health care, high needs patients, frail seniors and patients with chronic diseases will be provided with enhanced care planning and support with an individualized and co-ordinated personal medical health-care plan linking together various health professionals to provide better quality care.

The team could include the family physician, medical specialists, nurses, pharmacists and other allied health professionals. For a patient receiving home care, their support staff will be directly linked to their family doctor and the extended health care team to better coordinate care.

Patients with higher needs will have access to innovative models of care. This will include faster access to medical consultations with specialists with the introduction of a new payment mechanism that will allow family physicians to get immediate telephone access to a medical specialist for a telephone consultation.

"My health is very important to me," said White Rock-South Surrey patient Sheila Allison. "I have a family doctor who knows me, listens to my concerns and treats me as a partner in my care. I believe everyone should have access to a long-term relationship with a family physician."

Development of the new primary health-care initiative is currently underway in White Rock-South Surrey, Prince George and Cowichan Valley and will expand to other areas of the province, with the new primary care model being introduced in up to 20 communities as early as fall 2010. It is anticipated that up to 400,000 British Columbians and 400 physicians will participate in the first phase of this program.

"We are seeing real benefits in being able to bring together family doctors through our local Division of Family Practice," said Dr. Brenda Hefford, White Rock family physician and executive lead with Fraser Health. "In our community, the doctors have enjoyed strong collegial relationships, but we have not had a mechanism until now for working together as a group in collaboration with other partners in the health-care system and community."

"These new relationships and partnerships give us the confidence and support to tackle issues that none of us can address on our own," continued Hefford. "We are excited about being able to increase the number of people who have their own family doctor and to deepen the relationship between patients and their doctors. We look forward to beginning to see the benefits to their health from this relationship."

A key part of the new primary health-care initiative at the community level is the introduction of Divisions of Family Practice. Divisions of Family Practice provide a practical way for family physicians to work collaboratively as a group with regional health authorities and other community partners to provide the best care possible for patients, especially patients with higher needs such as mental illness, frailties and chronic diseases.

"My experience in Mackenzie with six doctors in three years is a reflection of the experience of many rural or remote communities," said Mackenzie, B.C. patient Pat Crook. "Physician attachment is more than just a name attached to a patient; it is a long term relationship, which is why we need to get creative with our health care models and work on physician retention in rural and remote communities. Solutions like Northern Health's alternative payment plan for doctors will hopefully address the problem of retention of doctors in rural or remote communities like Mackenzie."

Each participating division will make it easier for patients who do not have a family physician to find one. Divisions of Family Practice will provide a one stop call to assist people who arrive in a new community to find a family doctor. The same type of link would work for patients without a family doctor who arrive in the emergency department and are given the contact information for the division in order to get a family doctor of their own.

Family doctors will also use new innovations to build on their capacity to take on additional patients. This could involve offering group consultations for patients with chronic diseases instead of the traditional one-on-one consultation. The minister also hopes that this could include the broader use of nurse practitioners in integrated primary and community care and will ask the BCMA to explore this with government.

The move to a more integrated primary health care system will be a partnership between the health authority and the Divisions of Family Practice. Initially, this integrated care program will launch in up to eight communities: Cowichan Valley, North Vancouver, Powell River, Chilliwack, White Rock-South Surrey, Kamloops, Prince George and Prince Rupert. By March 2011, integration will have begun in more than 40 communities and regions of the province and, by 2015, the program will be available in more than 160 B.C. communities, covering the entire province.

The shift in primary health-care is part of the innovation and change agenda to improve patient care while managing growing health care costs and ensuring sustainability. In April, the Province launched patient-focused funding to initially offer hospitals financial incentives to deliver acute care services for a competitive, set price. In the second year, the Province will look at expanding patient-focused funding to support primary health care.