Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia emergency rooms aren't helped by walk-in clinics, says doctor

Walk-in clinics have a place in Nova Scotia's health-care system but they aren't a panacea for emergency room overcrowding, says a Halifax emergency room specialist.

'It's a complete, 100 per cent myth,' says emergency room specialist

Crowding and long waits in emergency departments "has really nothing to do with the 'in' door," said Ross, who's a professor, consultant and practising emergency department physician. (John Panella/Shutterstock)

The province's decision to prevent new doctors from working at walk-in medical clinics may cause a staffing crunch at those facilities, but it won't cause a spike in numbers of patients at hospital emergency rooms, says a Halifax emergency room specialist.

Shutting down walk-in clinics would have "zero to minimal effect," Dr. John Ross told CBC's Information Morning on Wednesday.

"The people with low acuity problems, the ones who are most often seen in walk-in centres, are not the issue at all," he said.

"Unfortunately, many people believe [walk-in clinics] deflect more people from the emergency department where they perceive care is expensive and can cause crowding, but that's not the issue. It's a complete, 100 per cent myth."

Crowding and long waits in emergency departments "has really nothing to do with the 'in' door," said Ross, who's a professor, consultant and practising emergency department physician.

"The problem is with the 'out' door."

Walk-in clinics have role to play

Dr. John Ross says walk-in clinics in Nova Scotia have a role in health care but doesn't see them as a solution to overcrowded waiting rooms. (CBC)

The bottleneck occurs when patients in ERs who need to go to a short-term or long-term care facility are unable to access those.

"Those are the people who are occupying space in the emergency department and making it difficult for others to come in," he said.

However, Ross believes walk-in clinics "have a role to play in our health and disease-care system."

'Co-ordinated, integrated fashion'

"I think they need to happen in a co-ordinated, integrated fashion with oversight from the health authority that knows where the needs are and how to adjust those."

The Nova Scotia Health Authority announced in December that doctors new to the province, including recent medical school graduates, won't be permitted to work at the clinics.

'Difficult to start shutting down'

It said the move is part of the health authority's decision to transition to collaborative care with a health-care team that includes a family doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, dietitian, psychologist and others.

"The intention is to try to integrate collaborative primary care centres which is a worthwhile, reasonable, sensible goal, I think," Ross said.

"My concern would be that unless some of those are in place and actually operating, it is difficult to start shutting down what's currently in place before you have something else to replace it."

The health authority has said it could be five to 10 years before collaborative health centres are in place across Nova Scotia.