Nova Scotians 'deserve way better' than primary care alternatives, says Doctors N.S.

Nova Scotians needing medical care took advantage of an alternative to a family practice visit 76,316 times last month — a figure the association representing physicians in the province is meeting with lukewarm praise.

Dr. Gehad Gobran, president of Doctors Nova Scotia, said those patients deserve more than the "episodic, siloed care" offered by those services, which can include appointments with pharmacists or virtual care.

"It's good as a tool of health when there is not enough family physicians, but is not for the long run," said Gobran, a family physician in Halifax.

"They deserve way better than this. They deserve a family physician to quarterback their health and their care."

More than half of those 76,316 appointments were carried out by pharmacists or at 25 community pharmacy primary care clinics, according to the latest numbers on the provincial health authority's Action for Health website.

The pharmacy clinics are part of a pilot project scheduled to run until Sept. 30 offering assessment and prescribing for minor ailments, including strep throat, pink eye and urinary tract infections. They also administer flu and COVID-19 shots, plus other vaccines and injections.

There were also more than 4,000 visits to primary care clinics that offer same- or next-day visits, and offer some weekend hours.

Virtual care accounted for about 12,000 visits, either from home or adjacent to the emergency department at 15 hospitals across the province.

160,234 Nova Scotians in need of a doctor

Access to basic or primary care is a pressing issue for at least 16 per cent of Nova Scotians.  As of June 1, there were 160,234 people signed up on the Need a Family Practice Registry.

Politicians, including Premier Tim Houston before his party took power, have used the registry numbers as a barometer for the health of the system. Maria Alexiadis, a family doctor and the province's lead for primary care transformation, disagrees with that characterization.

"In my mind, [it's] a false number because it's not that all these people on the registry have no access to care," Alexiadis told CBC News recently. "There are many appointments being made. There are many places where they can get access to care."

She defended the primary care being provided in new ways as "good care" she was "pretty proud" of.

"We're creating some temporary measures in order to allow for care to continue," said Alexiadis. "The ultimate goal is having a health home for everyone."

The government of Ontario is encouraging everyone to get vaccinated this year to keep people healthy and out of the hospital as the province battles the COVID-19 pandemic.
The provincial government has expanded scopes of practice for health-care professionals, such as pharmacists. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

Gobran said he sees the current measures as ways to provide some care, rather than proper care.

"[People] get the help, but then what after? Who is following this patient after? said Gobran.

"How about their health in general? They need a family physician for sure."

Asked how long these measures might be around, Alexiadis responded she didn't think they would be needed much longer.

"We're not talking like 10 years," she said. "I'm talking a couple of years."