Nova Scotia

Doctor raises alarm about lack of compensation for online health tool

A Halifax doctor says she's abandoning Nova Scotia's state-of-the-art online tool for communicating with patients because it's costing her practice too much money.

Tool works 'remarkably well,' says doctor, but province needs to fairly compensate doctors for their time

Dr. Ajantha Jayabarathan says she's abandoning the tool, meaning longer wait times for her patients. (CBC)

A Halifax doctor says she's abandoning Nova Scotia's state-of-the-art online tool for communicating with patients because it's costing her practice too much money.

MyHealthNS is a digital tool launched last summer that allows patients to receive test results, schedule appointments and ask their doctor basic questions electronically.

During the three-year pilot program, doctors saw a 22 per cent decrease in unnecessary office visits.

Dr. Ajantha Jayabarathan, who has been practicing medicine for 25 years, was one of those family physicians who embraced the program.

"It worked very well. It increased access for my patients to be able to see me, whether it was the same day, whether it was within two weeks, I was able to communicate with them much more effectively in a secure way," she told CBC's Information Morning.

Efficient program, but doctors not being paid

The problem, said Jayabarathan, is that she wasn't paid for her work with patients using the tool. In Nova Scotia, doctors are only paid to see patients face-to-face, or over the phone in some cases.

"But I did it, and I will say this openly, as a labour of love," she said.

She's now abandoning the tool, meaning longer wait times for her patients.

"It's a giant step backwards," said Jayabarathan.

Province sitting on valuable tool in health 'crisis'

Jayabarathan said she thinks the tool serves a valuable purpose.

"And here we are in a crisis where people can't get access to their family doctor. We're sitting on a valuable tool that does all the things we say [encompass] high quality care," she said.

Health Minister Randy Delorey said sending test results directly to patients, part of Phase 1 of the project, requires "very little effort" on the part of physicians.

But Jayabarathan said these interactions, though often more efficient than in-person visits, still take time out of a physician's day.

Delorey admits there are parts of the program that may take up more time for physicians.

Health minister hints at compensation

"Certainly there are a lot of other features and functionalities within the MyHealthNS system that can increase the workload [for doctors], the time using the system, things like e-messaging and so on, but that hasn't been the focus of the system to date," said Delorey.

"I think those would be the areas that you would expect to see more discussions around compensation."

Jayabarathan said about 795 of her 1,400 patients will be affected by her decision to discontinue the program.

Thirty-five doctors and 6,000 patients participated in a three-year pilot project before it was rolled out in the province's central health zone in July 2016. Since then, the numbers have increased to about 210 doctors and 10,000 patients.

There are about 2,400 practicing physicians in the province.

A spokesperson for Doctors Nova Scotia said they have no indication from the province of when fees will be set for physicians using the electronic system.

With files from Information Morning, Michael Gorman

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