PICTOU – The dire need for family physicians in Pictou County is no secret. It has been an ongoing issue which was compounded in December with the sudden death of a family physician in the New Glasgow area who was caring for Pictou West patients.
“The problem we have is a shortage of doctors,” explains Karla MacFarlane, MLA for Pictou West.
“When a doctor retires or unfortunately passes away suddenly, the law in Nova Scotia dictates the doctor must hold onto the files for six to 10 years and patients are charged to retrieve their files so they can search for a new doctor, which isn’t an option in Pictou County.”
MacFarlane has heard from more than 100 constituents who have had to pay anywhere from $87 for a single file to more than $300 for a family in order to obtain their medical files.
“People with an ongoing medical condition need to have their files because right now they are being treated and monitored at the Emergency Room.”
She believes the patient files should be kept by the Nova Scotia Health Authority, instead of being sent to a company in Ontario for storage, and patients should not be charged to retrieve them.
“It’s an unfortunate situation and I don’t feel the patients should have to pay…”
On Thursday, the federal and provincial governments made a joint announcement regarding the launch of MyHealthNS, a secure online tool allowing patients to receive, view and manage their personal health information electronically. The aim is to make it more convenient and in some cases save them a visit to a clinic to get information like normal test results. It will also mean more appointments available to be booked for those who need to see a doctor in person.
The project will cost $13.3 million over three years with the federal government, through Canada Health Infoway, investing $10 million and the province investing $3.3 million.
“(This program) is not coming to Pictou County until 2017,” notes MacFarlane. “And not everyone has access to computers and the Internet. Shouldn’t we first make sure people have access to the Internet before we roll out an online system?”
MacFarlane says she recently met with the doctors from the Pictou Clinic and the Northern Zone chief of medicine as well as the recruitment officer who told her they are still searching for new doctors.
“We’re down to three doctors now and we’re getting one more in August but we still need another doctor in Pictou.”
In the meantime, MacFarlane is hoping that with the pressure she and the other MLAs have put on Health Minister Leo Glavine, something will be done.
“I get calls and people stopping by my office every day telling me they can’t find a doctor and they can’t afford to buy back their medical records,” says Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn.
Pictou East MLA Tim Houston adds, “This unfortunate situation shines a light on the need to move toward electronic medical records.“
MacFarlane says, “It should be Mr. Glavine’s department to store files and pass them on to the patients.”
She says she has received a letter saying Glavine is looking into a review but MacFarlane says there’s no need to spend money on a review and with the new online system, she is waiting to see what Glavine’s response will be.
“If he says this will fix all of the problems, it’s not. How will patients get their files? How will they get access to doctors? On top of that, they can’t access the online service until 2017.”