Emergency rooms in B.C. are getting the overflow from a shortage of family doctors. (Black Press files)

B.C. primary care aims to reduce swelling in hospital ER

Patients without family doctor diverted to urgent treatment teams

Future family doctors are being matched with patients who head for the nearest emergency room because they don’t have an alternative for rapid treatment of non-emergency conditions.

The Urgent Primary Care Centre at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops is the pilot project for B.C.’s primary care strategy, seeing nearly 1,000 people since it opened in June. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Monday the facility is expanding with a “family practice learning centre” to connect patients with University of B.C. medical residents for treatment.

Patients are referred through the Healthlink BC waitlist for Kamloops, with priority given to people who don’t have a family doctor or nurse practitioner and who need immediate attention. Dix says the system is designed to deal with current need and also build up team-based care in communities with a chronic shortage of family doctors.

“It increases the number of opportunities for medical residents to be trained and supported in team-based care in Kamloops,” Dix said Monday. “This provides the foundation for these new physicians to continue serving patients in this region going forward.”

RELATED: B.C. launches plan to tackle doctor shortage

Dix and Premier John Horgan announced the primary care strategy in May, funding up to 200 new general practitioners to work in a new team-based care model. The first five communities to get teams are Comox, South Okanagan-Similkameen, Prince George, Richmond and Burnaby.

The team-based care approach was part of the minority government agreement between the NDP and the B.C. Green Party, with a promise to have 10 urgent primary care centres within the next year. The government’s goal is to offer team-based primary care in 70 per cent of B.C. communities by 2021.

“The overall goals of the family practice learning centre model are to build family-care capacity in the community, provide access through timely appointments, help patients find a primary care provider and promote team-based health care,” said Dr. Selena Lawrie, clinical instructor with UBC’s family medicine program. “The model creates the opportunity for patients to be attached to the clinic for their immediate follow-up care. Patients could potentially then transfer from the clinic if a family practice resident chooses to open his or her own practice at the end of training.”

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