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Big difference

A second family health team in Thunder Bay could wipe up to 20,000 residents off the rolls of those without a family doctor in the city.
Gordon Porter, the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre chief of staff. (Leith Dunick,
A second family health team in Thunder Bay could wipe up to 20,000 residents off the rolls of those without a family doctor in the city.

It’s also hoped the academic-based clinic, which will operate in conjunction with Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre at a yet-to-be-determined location, will be a catalyst that convinces graduating physicians from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine to begin their careers close to home.

"Right now we have a number of orphan patients and our orphan patients are basically because we don’t have access to primary care," said Gordon Porter, the hospital’s chief of staff. "The capacity to provide primary care to these orphan groups is really what the crux of the family health team is for.

"The environment that they’re practising in is the preferred environment for the physicians to practice. They want to practice in a team environment, and it’s been shown that outcomes are enhanced with a team-based approach to primary care."

According to Norine Howardson, the city’s family physician recruiter, there are between 18,000 and 20,000 citizens in Thunder Bay without a family doctor. There is a need for about 25 more family doctors in the city to take care of the overflow, lessening the burden on hospital emergency rooms and walk-in clinics.

Howardson said family health teams are one part of the city’s recruitment model, though other factors come into play, including spousal employment opportunities, proximity to extended family, recreational and cultural activities, education opportunities for their children and general lifestyle.

It’s really a matter of taste, she said.
"Recent or soon-to-graduate family medicine residents may choose a family health team model to practice as they’ve been trained in this collaborative model," she said. It gives the graduates the opportunity to practice comprehensive medicine, following the patient from birth throughout their life to death."

Howardson added the model also offers graduates conditions to qualify for certain provincial funding in underserviced areas.

The new Thunder Bay family health team is one of 30 rolled out across the province on Tuesday, bringing Ontario’s total to 200. Since 2003 the province has found doctors for 900,000 patients, leaving between 300,000 and 400,000 without a family doctor.

It’s will be one of 15 similar set-ups in Northwestern Ontario, a list that includes the Fort William Family Health Team in Thunder Bay, a 17-physician facility on the south side of the city.

The idea, Porter said, is to grow the new health care team slowly. The first phase should be ready to launch by next July and continue to increase capacity going forward.

That’s good news for residents, he said.

"As we add more physicians, more and more of the orphan patients will be rostered within this clinic structure. But all your care doesn’t have to be administered by a primary care physician. The care can be rendered in an appropriate way with the involvement of nurse practitioners, a pharmacist directly, and they all will practice within their skill sets and their core competency sets," Porter said.

"Patients can expect a real novel way of approaching their health care. The accessibility will be much greater, their extended hours will be greater. Overall, in looking at continuity of care, it’s really going to enhance patient care."

MPP Bill Mauro (Lib., Thunder Bay-Atikokan) said alleviating the shortage has been one of his government’s primary goals and that Tuesday’s announcement continues to build on that commitment.

Mauro when the new centre is fully operational within the next four years, a lot less people will answer "I don’t have one" when asked who their family doctor is.

"It will likely be able to recruit and retain anywhere from 20 to 25 more graduating family doctors and or family doctors who will relocate here to be part of this team," Mauro said.

Mauro added the facility will also provide residency opportunities for NOSM grads.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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