Nfld. & Labrador

More hires, electronic care top wish-list for doctors as politicians campaign

Three weeks away from the provincial election and doctors are sending their wish list to the politicians. On that list — more doctors so that every citizen in the province has access to a family physician and making electronic care a reality.

117 doctors have left the province since January 2018

President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Assocation Dr. Tracey Bridger (left) sits next to the former president, Dr. Lynn Dwyer. (CBC)

Three weeks away from the provincial election and doctors are sending their wish list to the politicians. On that list — more doctors, so that every citizen in the province has access to a family physician and making electronic care a reality.

"Health care is almost 40 percent of our provincial budget so it isn't responsible to make spending decisions without having a plan," said Dr. Tracey Bridger, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association.

"How do you know if you are spending your money wisely if you don't?"

Help retaining doctors

The association said according to their membership database the province recruited 62 full-time practicing physicians since January of 2018.

However, double that amount of doctors has left Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Seven physicians retired and 110 left the province," said Dr. Lynn Dwyer, past president of the NLMA. "That's a huge problem both for physicians and for our patients."

I think that they would greatly benefit from expert advice so doctors need to be at the table.- Dr. Tracey Bridger

At a meeting Wednesday morning, the physicians said medical school students, especially family medicine graduates, from Memorial University are not sticking around.

"That's probably a combination of various factors, our payment schedule, the heavy workload. There are multiple factors that contribute to it," said Dwyer.

"We need to do better just at retaining our family medicine graduates if we really want to turn things around here in the province."

Bridger said because there is no current physician resource plan, there are students graduating from medical school wondering what type of doctors the province needs.

"We don't know what to tell them," said Bridger.

Because there are so few doctors staying in the province, the association said more than 65,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador do not have a family doctor and they figure the situation is likely to worsen.

"We were deluged with patients who don't have family physicians … Unfortunately a lot of these patients are older and have complex medical needs," Dwyer said.

According to NLMA there are about 1,300 physicians working in the province, half of those are family physicians and the other half are specialists.

Making virtual care a reality

The group of physicians are recommending the province put a greater emphasis on electronic care to reduce costs, make the system more efficient and avoid unnecessary travel for patients.

"It is the future of health care," said Bridger. "There are some up front costs but in the long-term it will prove more efficient."

A program called eConsult is being recommended by the association so doctors can communicate with other specialists, avoiding patient referrals and the cost associated with that.

And the physicians want politicians to commit to rolling out electronic medical records.

"EMR needs expanded functionality including e-prescribing, e-referral and patient portals so patients can view their own personal data," said Bridger.

"We would never advocate for anything that resulted in substandard patient care but in other ways there are ways to make things more efficient," said Bridger.  

In 2015, the NLMA asked politicians to build similar items into their parties commitments, however Bridger said there wasn't much of a response.

"I think that they would greatly benefit from expert advice so doctors need to be at the table … to help the government come up with the kind of plan we need."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Cecil Haire

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