It has been one year since Dr. Paul Stent was left to be the sole physician to the entire community, and dealing with the fallout could take a long time yet.
While there are now four physicians in Fort St. James, and one more physician coming next month and locum physicians as well, patients may not see the difference in wait times for awhile yet.
“This is not a short-term affair,” said Dr. Anthon Meyer, one of the newest physicians to begin practicing in the community.
Instead of just getting through the backlog, Meyer said the goal is to develop a better system of care, which looks at a more integrated approach.
“If it’s driven in the right direction, it’s something that will create longevity and a sustainable service,” said Meyer. “It’s not about recruiting bodies of physicians just to come and see patients, we’ve had too much of that. It is about doing comprehensive disease management and changing outcomes.”
Meyer has experience specifically in building the type of care model he is talking about, he was the founder of Amdocs Inc., a company which provides physician services to remote communities, mainly First Nation communities.
Meyer worked out of remote communities in northern Manitoba and northern Ontario before he came to Fort St. James, though he lives in Whistler.
Meyer said his focus is on population health, wellness and well-being, and “the aim in my personal practice is to change outcomes and not just to touch bodies.”
In the future, Meyer hopes to help build a “long-term sustainable practice” and one which will show new physicians rural practice is one of the most satisfying practices a doctor can have.
Part of improving the health care in the community will also be keeping patient care closer to home.
“I believe in a philosophy of best care is local care,” said Meyer, which includes having access to emergency room care when it is needed.
Then once the care is available, the next step is to try and look at chronic disease management.
An example of changing outcomes through more comprehensive care Meyer gave was managing the chronic disease diabetes. There are multiple indicators which can help to monitor diabetes in patients, and better management by looking at all the indicators can help prevent serious problems such as blindness, kidney problems and heart problems down the road.
This type of disease management was not possible to do when there was only one doctor trying to care for the whole community.
With such an overwhelming workload, Meyer said it is impossible to change disease outcomes, and instead a physician simply refills prescriptions and deals with immediate symptoms.
“This is not just aspirational, it’s reality and we are working towards that, but it takes a tremendous intensity,” said Meyer.
The support staff, all health practitioners and physicians in a community and even the greater community itself including industry and municipal government have to work together to achieve a goal of comprehensive patient care, according to Meyer.
By doing so, a community can then create a significant asset by raising the standard of care.
So the goal is for the new physicians, along with Dr. Stent, to now build capacity and eventually create a better system of care which will be self-sustaining and will not only benefit the patients but create an attractive place for physicians to want to practice.
“That makes me very, very excited about the prospects to become involved in a community like this,” said Meyer.
Kathy Marchal, the medical clinic manager, said this type of care has been the goal for years, but it could not get off the ground because of issues with physician retention.
“It was impossible with one doctor,” said Marchal. She said she feels hopeful this time the new physicians are committed to staying in the community to help work towards a more holistic approach to patient care.
“I do think that it will make a difference here,” said Marchal.
Meyer said he expects patients will be able to see the changes after 18 months or two years, once the massive backlog has been dealt with and patients are able to get better access to the care they need.