The provincial government is to provide more money to the Northern Health Authority to beef up physician services in the emergency room at Mills Memorial Hospital.
Doctors who then want to work in the ER will be paid a salary for their shifts as opposed to the traditional fee-for-service model of doctors who maintain their own offices and clinics.
There are already physicians working in the ER either full time or part time under what’s called the Alternate Payments Program but adding more money is intended to be a “recruiting incentive and stabilizing force,” says Northern Health official Eryn Collins.
One hope is that doctors attracted to emergency medicine might work a set number of shifts and also maintain a practice outside the ER, she said.
“The goal is to improve access to primary care and stabilize both primary and acute care,” Collins added.
Adding salaried shifts is also expected to alleviate the current schedule which sees family physicians typically working nights and weekends in the ER when its salaried doctors are off shift.
That practice of having family physicians maintain their own clinic schedules while also rotating through the ER has long been regarded as a challenge in smaller communities when it comes to recruiting and retaining physicians.
And having more salaried positions in the ER will ensure there are enough doctors on duty during busy periods.
Exact details of how much money will be flowing to the Northern Health Authority and what that means in terms of boosting salaried positions within the Mills ER are now being worked out, said Collins.
“There’ll be more known within a few weeks,” she said.
The current master physician agreement between the provincial association representing B.C. doctors, Doctors of B.C., and the provincial government sets a salaried shift at 3.5 hours and, as of April 1, the pay rate will be $468.18 per shift.
The move to add salaried shifts at Mills in the hopes of improving the number of physicians within the community comes as local residents face a shortage of family physicians, leaving many without a family doctor.
A standalone clinic in the Lazelle Ave. mini mall was opened last year with the intent of providing services to people who don’t have a family doctor.
Residents now line up along the sidewalk in the early morning hours while waiting for it to open.
Collins said it’s important to note that while the Northern Health Authority does have a role to play in providing medical care, it’s up to physicians to decide how they manage their own clinic services.
“Terrace is not unusual in this regard,” said Collins of the shortage of family physicians within the province.
Paying physicians a salary under the alternate payments program has become a popular way of financing medical services in rural areas of the province, indicates the provincial government.
“The alternative payments program aims to secure sufficient access to care in situations where fee-for-service arrangements may not guarantee physicians the financial support or stability to be able to provide needed care,” reads a statement on a health ministry website.