Nova Scotia·HEALTH HACKS

Family doctors alone will not meet the health needs of Nova Scotians

Premier Stephen McNeil's assurance that every Nova Scotian would have a family doctor was likely an "empty promise," says health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton.

Doctors should be working collaboratively because 'you don't need to see a doctor for everything'

Doctors should be working collaboratively with other health-care providers, including nurses, according to health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

It's possible Nova Scotia has had the wrong goal all along in its search for better health care, according to health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton.

Premier Stephen McNeil's assurance that every Nova Scotian would have a family doctor was likely "an empty promise," she said, if many physicians are so busy patients can't get a timely appointment.

"The other pieces that we need are doctors working in groups so that you're not dependent on one person working all by themselves, that they have the backup of other doctors when they're not available when they're away," she said.

Having a family doctor is clearly important, she said, but physicians need to work together with other health professionals to provide the full "continuum of care" for Nova Scotians.

"We need doctors who work in collaboration with other providers, and the top of the list of those other providers is nursing support because you don't need to see a doctor for everything," said Hampton. 

"We should be saving our appointment schedule for those visits that need a doctor. But if you go into a clinic and you need something but you don't need a doctor, those other providers should be available to you. That's how we make the best use of the family doctors that we've got."

Mary Jane Hampton said physicians need to work together with other health-care professionals to provide the full 'continuum of care.' (Robert Short/CBC)

Hampton said the idea of completely reorganizing the health-care system sounds daunting, but it's not as complicated as it seems, as long as we're not counting only on family doctors to fill the need.

"I don't think it matters if 50,000, or 100,000, or 150,000 people don't have a family doctor. I think that it may be 600,000 people that don't really have access to a family doctor. Pick a number, any number," she said. 

"We need to have our eye on the right objective here. And if you really peel it all back, I would challenge anyone to say if anyone knows how many family doctors we actually need. Because if you are just looking at that piece of the system without all the other bits that allow family doctors to be efficient, we don't even know how many we're really recruiting."

Re-framing the physician shortage. Our health columnist suggests our politicians may have been promising the wrong thing. 6:30

READ MORE FROM OUR HEALTH HACKS SERIES

With files from CBC's Information Morning

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