More patients lose doctor access after departure from clinic

ARICHAT: A major change at a medical clinic here will affect patients already without a doctor, while others will be losing theirs.

On Feb. 18, the Arichat Medical Clinic issued a press release that Dr. Steven DeRoche will be leaving as of Mar. 1, and as a result, remaining doctors Laurie and Scott MacNeil will only see rostered patients and will no longer accept walk-in patients.

Since the remaining doctors can no longer absorb DeRoche’s entire patient load, this will leave some without a physician, the release said. The doctors said they will to retain as many “high need” patients as possible.

“Both (of us) currently have patient rosters well above average and simply cannot absorb another 1000-plus patients while continuing to provide timely, quality care,” Scott MacNeil told The Reporter. “There are many patients who have seen one or both Dr. MacNeils for one reason or another over the years but those affected will be the ones whose primary physician was Dr. DeRoche. There is no reliable way to define this cut-off. so if you are unsure of your status, please contact the clinic and we can review your file.”

This will impact Monday evening and Saturday afternoon clinics, the release said, noting the days will be treated as regular clinic hours in which patients will need to book an appointment.

“As our Monday evening and Saturday afternoon clinics had been open to anyone, we would see patients from anywhere whether they had another family doctor or not,” Scott MacNeil explained. “So we would often see patients whose regular family doctor was away or if there was a long wait to be seen at their usual clinic.”

Since it is first-come-first served basis, the clinic recommends that affected patients call 811 or register online at: needafamilypractice.nshealth.ca to be on the “Need a Family Practice” list.

“Many of those who access the walk-in clinic may already be on this list, however we recommend that they ensure their information is up to date by calling 811,” said Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) spokesperson Brendan Elliot. “People on the registry are contacted in chronological order when a family practice in their area is accepting new patients… Unfortunately, we are unable to estimate how long it will take before you receive a call, as the registry is dependent on the ability of primary care providers to accept new patients.”

MacNeil said they applied to the Department of Health and Wellness earlier this month to list the vacancy so the recruitment process can start.

“We anticipate our request will be approved and once it is, the vacancy will be listed with the NSHA recruitment coordinator for the Eastern Zone and be offered as an open position for new family physicians,” he said.

MacNeil said they have also contacted Cape Breton South Recruiting for Health committee’s community navigator Maggie MacDonald as soon as they were told of the departure.

“Unfortunately as this caught us off guard, there have been no recruitment efforts yet,” Scott MacNeil said. “We will be working with them going forward to maximize our efforts to recruit a new family physician to the area.”

To help with the transition, the public is asked to be “cognizant of time” since the clinic books appointments in 10-minute increments.

“There is time for one big concern or a few minor things,” the clinic said in the release. “Any extra time we take with you delays all of our following appointments and limits our ability to see patients who have urgent concerns or complex issues that day.”

These time constraints also limit the time doctors can spend writing patient referrals, the clinic noted.

“Writing a proper referral letter takes as long as a typical visit,” the release stated. “As general practitioners, we are trained to manage the vast majority of issues that arise and we recognize when something is beyond our scope of practice and will refer when appropriate. The current waitlists for most specialists are six to 12 months or longer.”

Because there is one fewer physician and both doctors will have more patients, the clinic pointed out that it will take “much longer” to book an appointment.

To help with the process, the clinic pointed to its collaborative care team. They said Family Practice Registered Nurse Phoebe Boudreau is trained to complete well-baby exams, well-woman exams, immunizations, injections, and can help with a variety of minor issues that do not require a prescription, referral, or diagnostic workup.

Social worker Holly Wilson is on hand to address a wide range of mental health issues, as well as to help connect patients to services and supports such as continuing care, financial aid, medical equipment, and expense coverage, the clinic stated.

The clinic said registered dietician Shelley Marchand can assess diet and nutrition needs, plan an optimal menu and give advice on adopting special diets for medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and food allergies.

Elliot pointed out that for routine health care, patients can call 811 to speak with a registered nurse for health care advice, 24 hours a day, while health information on more than 500 topics is available online at: 811.NovaScotia.ca.

He said these patients can also visit another walk-in clinic or call the nearest primary care clinic, which can be found by visiting: primarycareclinics.ca.

They can discuss their situation with their local pharmacist who may be able to provide short-term renewals for many prescriptions, as well as advice for common health concerns, Elliot noted.

Using healthynovascotia.ca, Elliot said patients can access online wellness sessions and information on healthy living.

Those with questions, concerns, or special circumstances to review are asked to call the Arichat Medical Clinic at 902-226-1674.