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Potential physician recruitment prospects for Yarmouth and Shelburne counties on horizon, but nothing for Digby yet

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SOUTHWESTERN NS – A virtual care trial project at the Digby and Area Heath Services Centre, where a family physician in Kentville does online visits with patients at the clinic, is working well and could be a solution to helping provide access to primary care, says Dr. Crystal Todd, head of family medicine for western Nova Scotia.

Dr. David LaPierre speaks with Mrs. Marie Wheelock in Digby from his office in Kentville.
Dr. David LaPierre speaks with Mrs. Marie Wheelock in Digby from his office in Kentville.

 

“We’re actually really excited to start using virtual medicine in Digby to help with access to care,” said Dr. Todd in an interview. ”It’s a trial. It’s the first time we’ve done that in family medicine in Nova Scotia so is a bit of an experiment as well.”

But Dr. Todd said it is one that has “worked very well so far.”

Using videoconferencing software, Dr. David LaPierre can conduct patient visits using a computer or tablet, assisted by the family practice nurse on site at the clinic.

“We’re hoping to ramp it up even more in the upcoming months,” said Dr. Todd. “We have another physician who may be interested in helping us out by doing virtual medicine,” which would “really help with the access to primary care in the Digby area for sure.”

“I would hope that if we can show that it is working in an effective way in the Digby area, we can spread that. We need to have the technology to do that, but I don’t think that’s a huge thing. It hasn’t been in the Digby area.”

“Not one piece of the puzzle can do it by itself. The NSHA can’t do it by itself, government can’t do it by itself and the community can’t do it by itself, so we need a piece of all three working together to figure out the successful formula for helping recruitment and retention.”

Dr. Crystal Todd, head of family medicine for western Nova Scotia

When it comes to physician shortages in the tri-counties, the Digby area is hardest hit, said Dr. Todd.

“Digby’s plight is fairly well known to everyone. We are sitting with one full-time doctor right now” and recruiting for multiple positions, said Dr. Todd.

“We would want at least some sort of multiple number before we’re comfortable putting anyone back in Digby, much like we did last time. There would have to be at least two doctors because there is such a shortage there,” said Dr. Todd, explaining that recruiting for multiple positions and not a single doctor is “a strategy that allows those doctors to feel more confident when they come.”

“When we have a community with as many people as there is in the Digby area (without a family doctor), it’s very overwhelming, particularly for a new or young physician to come into that community. It creates a more stable environment if we can bring in more than one and they can start together.”

When asked if there any physician recruitment prospects on the horizon for Digby, Dr. Todd said nothing immediate, but “we’re looking every day.”

There are, however, several prospects on the horizon for Yarmouth and Shelburne counties.

Dr. Todd said they have had at least one recent site visit in the Yarmouth area by a couple who are coming back for a second site visit.

“One piece of that couple has expressed interest in starting a family practice in that area so that is promising,” said Dr. Todd. “In the Shelburne area we are recruiting on a constant basis. We anticipate we will have a new physician starting in the Barrington area sometime in summer and fall of this year.”

When asked how many doctors need to be recruited to fill the need, “We’ll take as many as we can possibly get,” replied Dr. Todd.

“The reason I say it that way is we really aren’t going to know until we are at an area where we don’t have people looking for a provider anymore. We know the numbers on the registry. We also know in reality those numbers are not 100 per cent accurate. There’s lots of folks out there who haven’t put their name on the registry. We will continue to recruit until we don’t have people looking for a provider.”

When it comes to physician recruitment and retention, the tri-counties is an area where the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) “have made some great strides, perhaps the best strides in the province,” said Dr. Todd, who added the key to that is working with communities and stakeholders.

“Growing strong relationships with stakeholders is key to making recruitment and retention successful,” said Dr. Todd, pointing to the Digby stakeholders’ group, which includes municipal representation, chair of the local hospital foundation, the MLA, the site manager of the hospital, physician representatives and NSHA recruitment staff. A similar stakeholder group also has been started in the Shelburne area and plans are in the works to start one in Yarmouth as well, said Dr. Todd.

“Not one piece of the puzzle can do it by itself. The NSHA can’t do it by itself, government can’t do it by itself and the community can’t do it by itself, so we need a piece of all three working together to figure out the successful formula for helping recruitment and retention.”

READ ALSO: Health care with a twist at Digby and Area Health Services Centre 

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