Feb. 28, 2023

Op-ed: Physician-led, team-based care is the path to better access for patients

By Dr. John Gjevre and Dr. Andries Muller

By some estimates there are more than 200,000 people – or 1 in 6 Saskatchewan residents — currently without a family physician.

It is almost hard to believe. But it’s true. It’s also unacceptable.

We believe every person deserves access to high-quality primary health care.  We believe everyone who wants access to a “medical home” — a team of primary health care professionals working together and led by a family physician — should have it.

The reality is that we have work ahead of us to reach this goal. And we can’t make these necessary changes alone. Family physicians want to be active partners with government, the Saskatchewan Health Authority, and other professions in building a stronger, more sustainable health care system.

Tinkering at the edges of our current system won’t cut it. We need to invest differently and organize primary health care differently if we are to provide Saskatchewan citizens with better access and quality of care. The ideas we want to implement are not novel; they have been informed by other high-performing health systems across the globe – ones that have purposefully organized around and prioritized investments in primary health care.

Saskatchewan physicians believe a good first step would be to allocate a significant portion of the recently announced new funding from the federal government to supporting, stabilizing, and redesigning how family medicine and primary health care is delivered. Doctors in this province want people to have timely access to care close to where they live.

The Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) and the Saskatchewan College of Family Physicians are working with our partners in the provincial government, and with other health organizations, on changes to family medicine. Moving to a new model of physician-led team-based care in the community will require us all — primary health care professionals and patients — to learn to work together in new ways.

Saskatchewan doctors support people receiving care from a primary health care professional trained to meet their needs – whether that’s a nurse, mental health counsellor, pharmacist, nutritionist or physiotherapist. Having family physicians lead these interdisciplinary care teams will ensure that patients receive coordinated, comprehensive care over the longer term.

Improving how we deliver care in the community will provide more value for the tax dollars spent, potentially decreasing the load on emergency rooms, hospitals, and long-term care facilities, and giving people ready access to the most appropriate supports.

Frail and aging people may be better served by visits from the appropriate health care workers in their homes. Patients will receive the right care, at the right time, by the right member of the team. Physicians and health care professionals stand to benefit too, from reduced workloads and administrative burdens, which will improve their well-being and their capacity to keep serving the people of this province. Redesigning our primary care system is a daunting — but necessary — task that we know we can accomplish together.

Dr. John Gjevre is president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association. Dr. Andries Muller is president of the Saskatchewan College of Family Physicians.

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