Quebec has reached an agreement in principle with the federation representing general practitioners in a bid to give Quebecers easier access to front-line care.
In a statement Sunday afternoon, the government said that under the agreement, those already assigned to a family doctor would be able to see them or another one in the family medicine group (GMF) within 36 to 72 hours, depending on their clinical situation.
To attend to urgent needs, doctors will have to set aside a portion of time that would normally be used for appointments.
Patients currently on Quebec's waiting list for a family doctor — the Guichet d'accès à un médecin de famille (GAM) — will be able to use an online one-stop service called the Guichet d'accès à la première ligne (GAP), which is currently under development, to consult different types of health-care professionals within a "reasonable" timeframe.
In an in interview on Radio-Canada's Le Téléjournal, Health Minister Christian Dubé said that Quebecers who go through the GAP will also be able to obtain an appointment within 36 to 72 hours, depending on their clinical situation.
He also said the deal will see some 500,000 Quebecers, or half of all those without a family doctor in the province, gradually registered with a family doctor, starting with the most vulnerable patients, by March 31, 2023.
On Sunday, Dubé applauded the Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens du Québec (FMOQ)'s openness to seeing access to front-line health services differently.
"The agreement in principle ... is the result of several months of discussions, sometimes intense, but always with the shared vision that the status quo is no longer an option in terms of access," he said.
"We are aware that these changes will require support, resilience and the contribution of many partners, including health institutions and regional departments of general medicine (DRMG) in each region."
'A good step,' says FMOQ
Dr. Marc-André Amyot, president of the FMOQ, said it was about time collective responsibility for access to health-care was shared with different types of health-care professionals in Quebec.
"The right professional for the right patient at the right time must be the underlying objective of all our actions and this agreement clearly seems to us to be a good step in this direction," he said in a statement Sunday.
He emphasized family doctors cannot be the only solution to people's health problems, particularly when Quebec is missing about 1,000 general practitioners.
Amyot said the deployment of the GAP will allow "many other health professionals to be the gateway to the health-care system."
The tentative deal doesn't require additional funds since it falls under the envelope of the 2015-2023 framework agreement.
The FMOQ represents 9,500 members across the province. Despite the agreement in principle announced Sunday, it said it is still opposed to certain "counter-productive" aspects of Bill 11, which aims to increase the availability of front-line services.
A final agreement is expected in the coming weeks.