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How doctors are helping to cure P.E.I.'s health-care system

About 80 per cent of eligible nurse practitioners and physicians on P.E.I. have adopted the electronic medical records system. (Shutterstock / Onchira Wongsiri - image credit)
About 80 per cent of eligible nurse practitioners and physicians on P.E.I. have adopted the electronic medical records system. (Shutterstock / Onchira Wongsiri - image credit)

Doctors on P.E.I are taking steps to alleviate staffing shortages and make health-care more efficient.

They have had a hand in recruitment, the switch to electronic medicals and the implementation of the new Atlantic physician registry.

Dr. Megan Miller, P.E.I.'s physician recruiter, says eight physicians have signed letters of offer to practise on P.E.I., and 13 others are in various stages of the hiring process. Of the eight, four are family doctors and four are specialists.

"We have seen some really good success, we think, with the program and we're really pleased with the numbers that we've been able to recruit in the last couple of years since the inception of the program," Miller said.

"So there are lots of things to be hopeful for, lots of positive things happening, but we certainly recognize and know there's a lot more work to be done."

There are almost 30,000 people on P.E.I.'s patient registry waiting for a family doctor. That number grows every time a doctor retires or moves off Island, and often comes with stories from patients worried about their future health.

The public nature of practising medicine on P.E.I. can make recruitment a challenge, Miller said in an interview during special health-care series on CBC News: Compass.

"Physicians are a bit of a unique group," Miller said.

"There aren't many other professions where we hear on almost a weekly basis about changes for people who may be retiring, leaving the province or shifting roles in the province. So there is a really strong spotlight on physicians."

CBC/Zoom
CBC/Zoom

She said the move to medical homes and neighbourhoods on P.E.I. is appealing to new recruits.

"That's a huge innovation that's really important for our recruitment because our family physicians coming out of training now want to practise in these types of collaborative settings."

Atlantic physician registry

The new Atlantic physician registry, launched last week, is expected to ease some short-term staffing crunches.

It allows doctors to practise in the region without needing to apply for a different licence in each province.

CBC/Zoom
CBC/Zoom

Dozens of doctors in the region have already applied for approval, said Dr. Matt Kutcher, the president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of P.E.I.

"Physicians, like everybody else, take vacations and they get sick and sometimes they need time off, and I think that this will just expand the pool of others that can step in to help out when shortages do arise in various provinces," he said.

This really gives them the opportunity to get their feet wet in a number of different communities in the hospitals or clinics without fully committing to any one jurisdiction — Dr. Matt Kutcher

It also gives doctors who are just starting out in their careers some different experiences as they determine where to locate permanently.

"This really gives them the opportunity to get their feet wet in a number of different communities in the hospitals or clinics without fully committing to any one jurisdiction."

P.E.I. is also moving to an electronic medical records system and away from the traditional pen and paper and fax machines. Eighty per cent of eligible nurse practitioners and physicians on P.E.I. have adopted the system.

CBC/Zoom
CBC/Zoom

Dr. Kristy Newson, the physician adviser for the EMR program, said there have been some administrative challenges early on, but the doctors see the benefits of the new system moving forward.

One of the major benefits, she said, is better communication among physicians, nurse practitioners and primary care nurses, who can talk securely back and forth using the system.

'It's not all about saving time'

"It's not all about saving time. It's patient safety, it's data analysis that is only possible if we have a digital record," she said.

For example, she said if a doctor scribbles some prescriptions on paper and gives it to the patient to take to the pharmacy, they don't always know if they're giving them a medication that may interact with a medication that they've been given from their specialist.

But the EMR system has everything written in a patient's medication profile, so it will alert the doctor of any issues.

Newson said the system also sends out automated reminders for appointments, which reduces no-shows, and potentially could help gather data on chronic disease management.