Walk on in

The Fort St. James Medical Clinic is currently taking walk-ins on a trial basis.

The Fort St. James Medical Clinic is currently taking walk-ins on a trial basis.

A missive step forward for the clinic, allowing walk-in patients is aimed at addressing acute illnesses, but was simply not possible for the past couple of years due to the physician shortage.

For a year the community struggled under the care of one lone physician, Dr. Stent, who had to do what he could to provide some health care to the entire area.

Once more physicians were recruited to the community, there was an immense backlog of chronic illness patients which were being dealt with and this then prevented those who had acute problems such as a flu-related illness to be seen much of the time.

But at the beginning of February, the clinic was finally caught up enough with the backlog to begin shifting the physician schedule to accommodate walk-ins and opening up to book appointments, which previously was done via 9 a.m. call-ins during which the clinic was booked everyday within minutes of opening.

The three-month trial has been going well so far, according to Kathy Marchal, who manages the clinic.

The clinic is so far able to see on average 26-30 walk-in patients a day, and normally Marchal said all the walk-in patients are able to get in by the end of the day on most days.

It is a first-come, first-serve walk-in, and clients write down their names on a list when they arrive, and they are seen in the order on the list, but the patients must be in the clinic when their name is called.

With five physicians in the community now, and one nurse practitioner working out of the Nak’azdli Health Centre, the situation has improved significantly since Dr. Stent was the only physician left in Fort St. James, but there are still issues, said Marchal.

Due to the population and the amount of chronic disease patients in the area, as soon as the appointment books were opened up to pre-book spots, all the available spots until the end of April were filled within two weeks.

Now, patients who need follow-up appointments can not book an appointment with their own physician until May. If they use the walk-in, the patient may not get their own doctor, which is not ideal for follow-up and chronic disease care.

“It’s exactly what we predicted would happen,” said Marchal about the bookings.

While the system will be re-evaluated after the three-month trial period is up Marchal said so far the walk-in is working well, and she can’t see it going away, but changes may have to be made to continue to address the high number of chronic problems in the population with only five physicians.

“We need six physicians,” she said. “That’s absolutely the bottom line.”