Any Cowichan area resident who is looking for a family doctor can now be matched with one as a result of the successful implementation of the A GP for Me initiative.
Since 2011, more than 4,000 Valley patients have found a doctor, and going forward, any resident can call the GP Referral Line at 1-866-460-3649 to be connected to a doctor accepting patients.
The Cowichan Division of Family Practice, made up of 102 local family physicians, has worked with community partners to implement a number of initiatives through A GP for Me since the prototype began four years ago.
A GP for Me is a province-wide initiative supported by both government and doctors. Its aim is to find doctors for families Health Minister Terry Lake is pleased with the Valley success.
“The Cowichan Division has worked hard to connect residents who need a primary care provider with a physician. As well, their recruitment efforts, the creation of the maternity clinic and their work to strengthen practice efficiencies have supported increasing primary care capacity in this region,” he said.
“These efforts solidify the overall health of the community, as well as contribute to the work we are doing at a provincial level to build up primary and community care supports for all British Columbians.”
Starting in 2011, the Cowichan Division collaborated with Island Health, community organizations, health care providers and local residents to determine the primary care needs of communities in the region.
As a result, they discovered that approximately 3,600 people did not have a family doctor and couldn’t find one.
By March 2015, the division had exceeded their original goal and had found primary health care providers for over 4,200 people.
“Collaboration has been the key to our success,” Dr. Trudy Woudstra, Cowichan Division board co-chair, said. “We have also built great relationships with our community partners and the local health authority that have allowed us to not only address current issues, but to consider the bigger picture and how we can impact population health.”
In addition to the GP Referral Line, the division has taken on several other projects to meet the needs of patients in the Cowichan area.
One of the first projects was the creation of the Cowichan Maternity Clinic. Located in the hospital, the clinic provides care to mothers and their babies, both before and after delivery.
There is a full-time nurse on site and a flexible schedule that makes it easy for mothers to drop in, even without an appointment.
Counselling support is offered to high-risk mothers, and any mother without a doctor is connected to a family physician, along with her family members.
One patient, Stephanie Sine, is happy with the service.
“When I found out I was pregnant, I was really scared,” she said. “I had recently moved to the area. I didn’t have a doctor and I didn’t know where to turn. When I called the Maternity Clinic, I nearly started crying. The receptionist was so kind and helpful and the doctors and nurses there ended up taking such good care of me and my baby.”
The division is also actively involved in attracting new doctors to the Cowichan area and supporting current doctors, so they will stay in the community.
Three new family physicians have moved into the division, including two GPs in Lake Cowichan, replacing doctors who had left.
That initiative involved the community and local politicians who banded together with the medical community to bring new treatment options to the community.
Doctors already in practice are being offered assistance to help them run their offices as efficiently as possible, giving them more time to see patients.
Another project by the Cowichan Division ensures that all patients at Cowichan District Hospital have a family doctor both during and after their stay.
Now the division is focused on strengthening relationships between patients and doctors.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, but we can’t stop here. We have to keep looking ahead because things change quickly if a doctor decides to retire or leave the community,” Cowichan Division board co-chair said Dr. Jim Broere said. “Overall, we feel more confident now that we have built a strong foundation for the future of health care in Cowichan.”