Program aims to match every Chilliwack resident with a G.P.

The province is rolling out a $132-million program to ensure that all residents have a family physician by 2015.

Chilliwack’s family doctors are thrilled that a new program is coming to town to match more residents with general practitioners.

The province wants every British Columbian to have a family doctor by 2015, and is rolling out a $132-million program come April 1 to make sure that happens.

The Chilliwack Division of Family Practice (CDFP) confirms that it will receive a substantial amount of new funding to implement the GP for Me program.

A program pilot in White Rock-South Surrey, Prince George, and Cowichan Valley succeeded in matching 9,400 residents to family physicians. To achieve this, the cities hired new doctors, opened new clinics, and coached family practices on how to expand capacity.

In Chilliwack, family physicians have long been overstretched.

“Most practices are at or over capacity and it will be a challenge to use the suite of initiatives to increase capacity without burning out our physicians,” says Dr. Ralph Jones, who has served the community as a G. P. for nearly two decades. He is the lead physician for the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice, the professional network of local family physicians.

Neither Jones nor the other two doctors working in his office have accepted new patients for several years. Fraser Health estimates that approximately 30 per cent of the region’s 1.5 million patients do not have family doctors, and that number is continually growing.

Having a G.P. serving as one’s “personal medical advisor,” says Jones, is the best way to ensure continuity and quality of care, so that patients are best able to navigate the complex medical system.

Among other strategies, GP for Me will create financial incentives for physicians to consult with patients by phone, and to include more complex patients, such as those with cancer, into their caseload.

Chilliwack has a unique system in which most family physicians are able to step from their community practice to a hospital setting to care for their patients. For people who don’t have a family physician, a G.P. will assist them while in hospital, but is rarely able to accompany them on their journey to recovery once their hospital stay is complete.

“Most GP’s in Chilliwack continue to work in the hospital but over the years we have been less and less able to take the ‘orphan’ patients into our practices when they leave hospital,” explains Jones.

CDFP has already gone a long way to connecting family doctors with hospital patients, primarily by pulling in provincial funds to compensate general practitioners for hospital work.

“It stopped the hemorrhage of family doctors who were leaving the hospital,” says Jones,’

CDFP has also created a pool of medical talent from which physicians can draw when they need someone to cover a patient call, a service that has had a “huge impact” on Jones’ practice.

Part of the new provincial funds will further strengthen family physician networks such as CDFP. In Chilliwack, nearly one hundred family physicians, over 90% of the total, have signed on to the network.

CDFP members are meeting throughout March to figure out how to implement the GP for Me program. Jones stresses that the pilot initiatives in places such as White Rock-South Surrey required several years of dedication before seeing results, and Chilliwack will also need time to improve the robustness of its health care system.