When Diana Hilliard and her husband Joe decided to move to Kelowna for their retirement years and to be closer to their daughter, it was not without a little hesitation about the doctor shortage in the Central Okanagan.
They had been with the same family doctor in their Southern Ontario hometown for 15 years before deciding to make the move west.
And they had heard finding a family doctor wouldn’t be easy.
“We knew there was a problem well in advance. Our daughter had warned us that she had trouble finding a physician,” said Diana, 66. “I don’t think I really grasped just how bad it was until I got here and it seemed like the only recourse was I was going to have to sit down and start phoning doctors. It’s difficult. You are cold-calling to find out who is accepting new patients and you don’t know what kind of medicine the doctor likes to practice. I was really not looking forward to the process. There were listings online about who is accepting new doctors but if you searched Kelowna you got zero hits.”
What Hilliard did stumble upon when she was searching for who would take new patients is a relatively new service called A GP For Me. Run by the Central Okanagan Division of Family Practice—a service funded by physicians as well as the Ministry of Healthy—the Central Okanagan Division of Family Practice is one of about 30 divisions around B.C. Non-profit organizations, the divisions run many programs, from recruiting doctors to holding different clinics and physician support.
A GP For Me has three different mobile assessment units set up in Kelowna: At the Mission, Parkinson Rec. and Rutland activity centres. The program sees folks over the age of 65 who don’t have a doctor, takes the patient’s entire history and does an assessment before matching a patient with a doctor who is taking new patients. Since opening its doors in the Central Okanagan in October of last year, the division’s A GP For Me program has assessed 375 patients and attached 300 of those with local doctors.
“Because we’re working with capacities of one or two patients at a time we are doing a lot of relationship building with physicians and asking if they can just take one or two new patients,” said Leslie Godwin, project manager for A GP For Me in the Central Okanagan. “We take the patient’s entire history and do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work so we can make the attachment to a family physician more accessible. Some doctors are open to take six new patients and some can only take two so what they need is what we give them.”
For now A GP For Me works strictly with folks who are over the age of 65. The reason for that is that seniors are the highest users of the medical system. Pairing seniors up with doctors as they move through their retirement years and as they use the medical system more and more, not only helps the patients and the doctors, it can save the system money, said Godwin.
“At Kelowna General Hospital the elderly population accounts for the most inpatients,” she said. “We’re looking at how we can improve the overall care for the elderly. We did a very thorough assessment phase for the project and we felt the population that would most benefit from being connected with a family physician was people over the age of 65.”
For Diana Hilliard, finding the A GP For Me program was like a gift. Instead of having to cold-call doctors to try and find a family physician for her and her husband, they instead went to one of the mobile assessment units first and were given a thorough exam and patient history.
“They took all of our medical history which allowed them to make a thoughtful connection for us,” she said. “Trying to find the right fit (with a new doctor) is difficult at the best of times. Being new to a community, it was going to be a crap-shoot. But they couldn’t have done a better job. The doctor they paired us with is absolutely perfect. He’s a lovely man and I think this is a really smart way to pair doctors and patients. Everybody was so nice. There wasn’t a step along the way where we felt uncomfortable.”
After arriving in Kelowna in early March, only a short six weeks later the Hilliard’s were able to get into a family doctor. It was a huge sense of relief for the retired couple.
“It’s a comfort level,” she said. “We have had our introductory meeting and he has started setting up a baseline of understanding of where we are at so that everything is in place and we’re not meeting someone for the first time in the emergency room or when there is a crisis.”
For information on A GP For Me, call 250-718-8116 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.