HALIFAX: The province is claiming that an uptake in a provincial incentive program is allowing more Nova Scotians to have a family doctor.

According to the Department of Health and Wellness (DHW), in the first month of the Patient Attachment Incentive Trust, 177 doctors have taken on 882 patients province-wide.

“This incentive is just one tool that we’re using to help connect patients with a family practice,” said Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey. “We know that physicians are trying to improve access for patients when and where they can, and our incentive acknowledges that work.”

Family doctors from every zone have been taking on new patients including the Eastern zone – which includes Guysborough, Antigonish, Richmond, Inverness, Victoria and Cape Breton counties – where 24 family doctors have taken on 182 patients, according to the DHW.

Despite the success of the program, the Nova Scotia Health Authority confirms that as of April 1, there remain 2,972 people in the Eastern zone without a physician. Within the zone, there are 229 patients in Antigonish and Guysborough counties needing a physician, while in Victoria, Inverness and Richmond counties, there are 926 people seeking a doctor.

The incentive was announced in March as part of a $39.6 million investment to improve access to primary care. Family doctors are eligible for a one-time incentive of $150 per patient for accepting a patient from the 811 Need a Family Practice Registry. The incentive is also available to family doctors who take on new patients referred from an emergency department or a practice where a doctor is retiring or moving.

Another $6.4 million has been placed in the Patient Attachment Incentive Trust, which is managed by an independent trustee.

Aside from finding doctors for more patients, the province also has more plans to fill more health care service gaps.

“We’re also hiring nurse practitioners and family practices nurses who are joining collaborative care teams across the province,” DHW spokesperson Heather Fairbairn noted. “This will mean practices able to take on more patients as well.”