Nova Scotia spends $39.6M on compensation for doctors, including new-patient bonus

Family doctors are getting a raise and being offered incentives to take on more patients, share more info with the province, and to switch to phone, text or email consultations.

Pay raise — combined with new incentives — could see doctors receive $20-30K more a year

Premier Stephen McNeil, left, is joined by Dr. Tim Holland, president-elect of Doctors Nova Scotia, and Dr. Heather Johnson, a family doctor from Bridgewater, during a news conference about health-care funding on Monday. (Robert Short/CBC)

Family physicians in Nova Scotia are the latest group to benefit from the government's end-of-fiscal-year spending spree.

The McNeil government is offering doctors a pay and incentive package worth $39.6 million — $18.2 million of which is coming from an arbitration award from a long-standing dispute over offshore royalties.

Premier Stephen McNeil announced the deal Monday alongside Doctors Nova Scotia president-elect Dr. Tim Holland.

"We have come to an agreement [for] a $40-million incentive package to ensure that Nova Scotians have access to primary health care in our province and family physicians who are building a long-term relationship with their patients are being recognized for that relationship," said McNeil.

Dr. Tim Holland is president-elect of Doctors Nova Scotia. (Robert Short/CBC)

Holland called the incentives "a great first step in making Nova Scotia more competitive across the Atlantic provinces, which will thereby retain the physicians we have here, encourage physicians that may have left to come back and to keep new grads in Nova Scotia."

Phone, email communication

Part of the funding — $13.9 million — will go toward increasing amounts for fee-for-service and the alternative payment plan for family doctors.

Every visit from a patient under the age of 65 will now earn doctors $36, instead of the current rate of $31.72. For patients over 65, doctors will earn $44.54, up from the current $40.26 charge.

One of the changes eliminates a long-standing irritant for doctors who have preferred or would like to communicate with their patients by phone or email. The government has simplified the process.

"This allows us to expand on the existing telephone fees that were effectively useless because there were so many stipulations around them," said Holland. "It took more time to actually do the paperwork around the phone call than it did to do the phone call. This opens that up to allow that family physician to start using the telephone.

"While that might not seem new and cutting edge technology, it does move ahead medicine quite far."

Dr. Heather Johnson runs a collaborative practice in Bridgewater. (Robert Short/CBC)

Dr. Heather Johnson, who runs a collaborative practice in Bridgewater, is anxious to deal with some of her patients by phone rather than in person.

"It will be easier for me to see people like the frail elderly or people who have transportation problems, people with chronic disease, who their disease care takes up a huge portion of their personal time," Johnson told reporters at the news conference. "I will be able to allow technology to facilitate their care more easily.

"It will be easier for my patients and hopefully then free up some time that will allow the other patients who need to see me face to face easier access," she said.

Doctors who sign on to the telephone and e-health pilot project will be eligible to share in the $4.2 million the province is making available in a technology incentive.

Incentive for adding patients

There's also an incentive program for family doctors who take on new patients, either those referred to them through an emergency room visit or one of the 44,000 people who have officially registered as in need of a doctor.

The $6.4-million patient attachment incentive will give doctors a one-time payment of $150 for every new patient they take on.

A $6.6-million enrolment incentive will give doctors $7.50 per patient for every person they see regularly at their practice. They must agree to share that information with the province.

The province is also offering doctors a total of $8.5 million to change over to or update their electronic medical record-keeping system.

According to Doctors Nova Scotia, about 80 per cent of family doctors currently keep e-health records. This is an attempt to convince the remaining 20 per cent to switch from paper files or to help those who already have them on computer to update their software.

Doctors Nova Scotia estimates the raise, combined with the new incentives, could see family doctors receiving $20,000 to $30,000 more a year.

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.