Patients urged to register in health group

A new health care initiative launched here in February has seen some response from patients, but local doctors are hoping to get more people signed up.
The Fort Frances Clinic announced a partnership with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to form the Fort Frances Family Practice Family Health Group (FHG).
The province is encouraging doctors to work together in groups to provide better care to patients through FHGs and Family Health Networks (FHN) across Ontario.
Part of the process involves having patients register with their family doctor.
Dr. Elaine Spencer, president of the Fort Frances Clinic, said a nurse was installed in the clinic’s waiting room for the first five weeks after the launch of the initiative to explain to people what the benefits of the FHG are and help them fill out the forms.
“About 10 percent of our patients were registered during that time, which isn’t as many as we were hoping for,” Dr. Spencer admitted.
Part of the difficulty was the nurse could only help one person at a time, and many people would leave after seeing their doctor rather than stay and wait.
“Now, we’re doing it on a daily basis,” she noted.
Since Monday, every patient who comes in to the clinic to see a doctor is given the FHG form. They can discuss any questions they have with their doctor, and get help from clinic staff in filling out the form after their appointment, if necessary.
Doctors here are hoping the FHG also will help attract new doctors to the area. Dr. Spencer said at a recent doctor recruitment fair, medical residents only were interested in communities where they could join a FHG or FHN.
Patients’ participation in the process will help with the recruitment effort.
“The more people we have registered, the better it is for us to recruit,” Dr. Robert Algie said. “If we get as many people as possible registered, we can look at the FHN options.”
With Dr. Laurie Kibiuk leaving next month, Dr. Diane Haak leaving in June, and Dr. Nancy Naylor leaving later this summer, the physician shortage in Fort Frances is becoming serious.
Drs. Brain and Coholic already moved to eastern Ontario in January.
“We’ve had some lukewarm interest for locums,” Dr. Algie said.
“It’s really competitive out there,” Dr. Spencer added. “There just aren’t enough doctors available.”
Both agreed patients could help attract new doctors by showing they are committed to the FHG.
Dr. Algie said patients usually have no hesitation in registering once they understand what the FHG is. “They’re generally pretty co-operative,” he remarked.
He also noted the province is insisting doctors now work within the framework of FHGs and FHNs. It is included in the agreement that recently was ratified by the Ontario Medical Association on behalf of the province’s doctors.
“The only significant gain for family doctors requires them to have some sort of patient roster,” Dr. Algie noted. “It’s here to stay.”
Patients are welcome to come in without a doctor’s appointment simply to register. “Some seniors made a point of coming down to register,” Dr. Spencer said.
In order to reach those who do not see their doctor regularly, the clinic also will be sending the forms out by mail to those who have not yet registered, likely next month.
“There’s a number of people who never see their physician within a year,” Dr. Algie said.
One of the benefits of registering with the FHG is that patients receive a toll-free number to call if they have health questions after hours.
The phone line—called Telephone Health Advisory Services (THAS)—is different from Telehealth Ontario.
It is staffed by registered nurses who can answer questions and help determine if the caller needs to go to the emergency department at the local hospital.
The nurse also can contact a doctor from the caller’s FHG for advice, or to notify them if the patient is going to emergency.
The next morning, the physician receives a report of the call, including any recommendations the nurse may have made. The report is added to the patient’s file so it is always up-to-date.
“The telephone advisory service seems to be working quite well,” Dr. Spencer said, adding she’s had positive feedback from patients who have used the service.
Patients who are members of a FHG also can have a report sent to their family physician when they receive primary care from another doctor anywhere in Canada.
That report contains what health services were rendered to the patient.
These two reports only are produced if the patient signs the consent form to release that information when they register in the FHG. But a patient can refuse to give that consent and still be a registered member of the FHG.
Patients are asked to register with the doctor they see regularly. If ever a patient wants to make an appointment with their family doctor, but he/she is not available, they can see any other doctor in the FHG.
While this is not unusual at the Fort Frances Clinic, it is a big change for people in larger cities where most family doctors have individual practices.
Anyone living within 100 km of Fort Frances with a valid Ontario Health Card is eligible to register. This includes people living in Nestor Falls and Lac La Croix.
Anyone 16 years of age or older must sign their own registration form. Only people who regularly receive their medical treatment at the Fort Frances Clinic should register for the FHG.
All family physicians in Fort Frances, including Dr. Cam Moorhouse, who recently opened a separate practice here, are part of the FHG, except for Drs. Kibiuk and Haak.