News Local

Family-doctor pilot project launched

By Dave Dawson, Orillia Packet & Times

There are many people in Orillia and area who do not have a local family doctor. So, when they require medical care, these “unattached patients” typically land in the emergency department of Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH).

To improve access to primary care for those individuals and to, ultimately, help them find a family doctor, the city’s family health organizations, in conjunction with the Orillia and Area Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee (OAPRRC), have started a pilot project aimed at addressing those issues.

The three-month project will provide episodic non-urgent care to “unattached” patients at the city’s two after-hours clinics. For the past few years, only patients with local family doctors were able to access the clinics.

“For various reasons, we have definitely noticed an increase in the number of people who are looking to access primary care in Orillia,” said Dr. Ryan Mitchell, the lead physician at the Couchiching Family Health Team. “Right now, the only place an unattached patient can go for urgent or semi-urgent care is OSMH, which, we are convinced, is not an ideal situation. We wanted to try to offer a service for patients in the community who are long-term members of the community — people who have moved here, live here and want to build a life here — but haven’t yet been able to get a family doctor.”

From now until Dec. 9, anyone with a permanent address in the postal code areas of L3V, L0L or L0K will be able to access the local after-hours clinics. For now, there is a cap of five “unattached” patients per night at each of the clinics.

When those patients visit the clinics, they will be encouraged to register with Health Care Connect, the government’s conduit to linking a person with a family doctor. The OAPRRC has purchased tablets that will be available at both clinics, where staff will help patients navigate the Health Care Connect process.

“One of our mandates is to ensure every Orillian has access to primary care,” said OAPRRC chair Dr. Matt Miller. “When we heard about this idea, we encouraged the pilot project and wanted to do all we could to help because it’s important to ensure everyone has access to primary-care physicians without going to emergency.”

While the short-term goal is to ensure people have access to primary health care in a timely manner, the long-term goal is to ensure every citizen has a local family doctor.

“The end goal is to get patients connected with a family doctor. That’s the ideal outcome,” said Dr. Peter Daniel, the lead physician with the Orillia Family Health Organization. “We’re hoping to make the Health Care Connect process more user-friendly at the clinic. I know, in the past, a lot of people have been afraid to de-register from their out-of-town doctor they had before moving here. You can continue to see that doctor until you are attached to a local one. De-registering doesn’t mean that doctor can’t see you ever again; you don’t have to cut your ties completely. However, it’s better to have a family doctor where you live and that’s what we’re trying to facilitate.”

One of the reasons so many people in the area don’t have a family doctor is the province changed some of its rules a few years ago and determined this area was no longer one of “high need.” That meant, in essence, a new family doctor could only come to town if an existing doctor retired. However, Orillia has recently been designated as under-serviced, which paves the way for recruitment.

As a result, one new family doctor has already been recruited and efforts continue to bring more to the area, said Miller.

“Since 2010, 19 family physicians have been recruited, but that two-year pause put us behind meeting the needs of a growing community,” he said.

Mitchell said the pilot project could be a good tool to aid recruitment.

“During the pilot project, we’ll be tracking the number of unattached patients we see, the number who sign up with Health Care Connect and, hopefully, how many get matched with a family doctor. We can use that data to help recruit new family physicians to Orillia.”

Mitchell sees the need for more family doctors every day.

“We would all love to see anybody who is sick or just have questions be able to get in to see their family doctor within 48 hours, but right now, that’s just not happening,” he said. “We still have a shortage of family physicians. Wait times are longer than anyone would like them to be. We’re hoping this will help address that.”

The pilot project will run until Dec. 9. The Orillia Family Health Organization’s after-hours clinic is at 210 Memorial Ave., Suite 125. Patient registration hours are Monday to Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. The Couchiching Family Health Organization’s after-hours clinic is at 119 Memorial Ave., Suite 102. Patient registration hours are weekdays from 5:30 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. You must have a valid health card. Patient volumes will determine the ability to be seen by the doctor on duty. 

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