While it is vital that all local healthcare stakeholders work together, without long-term and deep financial investments from government, the system will continue to fail.

On February 23, the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) hosted a community information session in St. Peter’s to discuss collaborative family practice teams. The event was one of a series of meetings that will take place across the province this year.

Kathy Bell, director of primary healthcare with the Eastern Zone said their main goal was “to connect with the community” to hear what groups have been working on and get their reactions.

The NSHA has been working with healthcare providers to develop collaborative family practice teams to suit the community’s needs. The teams can be made up of physicians, nurse practitioners, and family practice nurses, as well as other healthcare professionals such as social workers or dietitians. Bell said the teams are not meant as a replacement for physician care, but to complement their practice.

Melanie Newell, health services manager with primary healthcare, provided participants with information on collaborative care teams. Newell said the teams can ease the workload of family physicians, improve doctor retention and allow better access to care. Patients who may not need to see a physician for a particular health concern can access another member of the team.

She said nurse practitioners can free up spaces to bring in additional people to receive care and attention.

Newell said collaborative teams could also provide patients more flexibility for scheduling appointments and streamline care by sharing medical information.

In the Strait Richmond area, which includes Port Hawkesbury, Isle Madame and L’Ardoise, there are 616 people listed on the provincial registry for those in need of a family practice. There are currently two collaborative family practice teams in the region located in Port Hawkesbury and L’Ardoise.

Kathy Bell said a portion of the funding each year from the Department of Health and Wellness is dedicated to creating family practice teams. In recent years, the NSHA has advertised for expressions of interest from family physicians or groups of healthcare providers who would like to establish a team, or add additional members to an existing team. She said the call that was sent out in December drew over 100 expressions of interest.

Bell said that the NSHA has received a new expression of interest from three physicians in Arichat who would like to be part of a collaborative family practice team. She said national and international research has demonstrated it helps with physician recruitment and retention.

The NSHA plans to hold at least one community discussion in each county over the coming year. A full schedule of community meetings, as well as additional information on collaborative family practice teams is available at: www.nshealth.ca.

Clearly, residents of the Strait area would prefer to have more full-time physicians in family practice and manning local emergency departments, and more resources and support for healthcare providers, but in the meantime, a collaborative approach can help fill some gaps.

Even with an acceptable number of doctors and an adequate amount of resources, this collaborative model of sharing information and resources is well suited to the Strait area, considering the geographic spread and the aging population in this region.

But with healthcare spending, resources and infrastructure at an inadequate level, the system in Nova Scotia has become stretched to its limit, even with collaborative programs. Some patients cannot access doctors in their area in a timely manner, emergency departments are closing temporarily, those seeking medical procedures have long waits, and when they finally receive medical attention, they are either sent home early or forced to wait in hallways or crammed into rooms, sometimes with three other patients.

This situation is likely to worsen without large scale financial investments from the federal and provincial governments, especially as Baby Boomers age and require more healthcare.

Working collaboratively can help gloss over some of the shortcomings in the system and help patients get the attention they deserve, in the short term, but over the long term, much more must be done to fix a health care system that is bursting at the seams.