Program linking those on N.B. doctor wait list to care providers is expanding
Health Link system launched in Moncton to grow to Fredericton health zone in coming weeks
More of those on New Brunswick's ballooning wait list for a family doctor will soon have access to primary health-care providers.
Health Minister Bruce Fitch said Friday a program called Health Link that began this summer in the Moncton health zone will expand to the Fredericton zone within the coming weeks.
The program allows those on the Patient Connect New Brunswick list to get in-person, phone or online appointments with a doctor or nurse practitioner.
Fitch said the goal is to reduce visits to emergency rooms.
"If you're getting primary care in the community, you're not going to end up in the ER," Fitch said.
He said the program will expand to the Campbellton health zone after Fredericton. It's expected to be offered across the province by the middle of next year, Fitch said.
The province announced as part of its health plan released last fall it would launch a system to allow those on the waiting list for a doctor to access a primary care provider.
More than 40,000 New Brunswickers were on the waiting list when the plan was announced. That grew to 74,000 as of August. Health Department spokesperson Adam Bowie said the number has since dropped to about 69,600.
The program is managed by Medavie Health Services New Brunswick, the same company running Ambulance New Brunswick and the Extra-Mural Program.
Dr. Isabelle-Anne Girouard, medical director for the new program, said she worked a decade in ERs. Girouard regularly saw patients who had waited hours, sometimes in the middle of the night, to see a doctor about a non-urgent issue because they didn't have another option.
"So when I saw the opportunity to jump on a project like this, and see the day when we could meet at 10 a.m., at 1 p.m., and have an appointment, have a follow-up and get to know each other … I was thrilled to jump onboard and make sure this was going to be possible," Girouard said.
Girouard said they've been seeing patients with earaches, sore throats and bellyaches the same day that patients request an appointment.
As the new program grows, Girouard said the hope is that these patients who use the ER for minor medical issues because they don't have a family doctor will be able to get their needs addressed.
"We're looking to create that other door that they can knock on to very efficiently."
Girouard said they will try to match patients with the same care provider on subsequent visits, though they may see others depending on availability.
Fitch said the clinics will use electronic health records so information about patients is accessible to other care providers.
Physicians need admitting privileges with the two health authorities to work with Health Link.
A new billing code for the program was negotiated with the New Brunswick Medical Society. It offers a higher rate than a doctor would receive for working at a walk-in clinic.
Fitch said the system isn't meant to replace walk-in clinics, but doctors can choose to change their model.
"If there's a walk-in clinic that's not satisfied with the present situation, they could reach out to [Medavie] and possibly switch their model that's possibly similar to this," Fitch said.
The program launched in July and has used existing clinical space in Moncton and Dieppe.
So far, the department says it has contacted almost 20,000 people on the physician wait list to register for Health Link. Of those, 7,100 have registered, while 4,400 say they already have another health-care provider.
Once registered, people can seek appointments by calling or using the program's website.
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