N.S. Health updates need-a-family-practice wait list by calling people who may have found a doctor

Employees with Nova Scotia Health are contacting 17,500 people by phone to find out whether they have found a family doctor and can be removed from the provincial waiting list. (Shutterstock - image credit)
Employees with Nova Scotia Health are contacting 17,500 people by phone to find out whether they have found a family doctor and can be removed from the provincial waiting list. (Shutterstock - image credit)

Officials with Nova Scotia Health believe they've identified 17,500 people who can be removed from the province's need-a-family-practice registry, and now they're calling them to make sure.

Health authority employees have been working to confirm the accuracy of the registry, which stood at more than 152,000 people on July 1. Monthly updates have been paused while the calls take place.

"The current phase of this confirmation process involves comparing doctor billing data against the registry to identify people who may now be attached to a family practice," health authority spokesperson Brendan Elliott said in an email.

Elliott said health authority staff are aiming to have the calls completed and the registry updated with new information by Aug. 31. Employees will try calling a person twice, leaving a message each time. A third call would be made if there is no voicemail.

"Part of the message we leave is for the person to call a specific number to confirm their status. We will continue making calls throughout the fall to make further attempts. If we are unable to reach a person by phone we will also try to reach them via email or posted mail, to ensure we exhaust all avenues."

Steps to ensure info security and confidentiality

If contact isn't made, the person's name would be put on hold for six months while employees try to reach them. If they can be contacted within six months and still require care, they would be put back in their original place on the registry, said Elliott.

The people making the calls are Nova Scotia Health employees who have received appropriate training in information security and confidentiality as outlined in the Personal Health Information Act, he said.

"All of this work is within our secure IT environment which ensures protection of personal information.… There are also supervisory and auditing measures in place to ensure the proper use of the registry information."

Ensuring access to care

Since coming to power two years ago on the strength of a campaign promise to fix the health-care system, Premier Tim Houston and his Tory government have watched as the registry has doubled.

NDP Leader Claudia Chender said Houston and his team have talked about increased access to care through things such as mobile clinics, urgent treatment centres and tele-medicine, but she said that's not the same thing as people being attached to a family practice that's there when they need it.

And while recent announcements by the government have focused on technology upgrades or long-term projects, Chender said there needs to be more attention on people's immediate needs.

"Most people feel like if they have a doctor's office that they are under the care of — whether or not they're always seeing a physician or another health-care practitioner — they feel like they have that entry access to health care," she said.

"And we have not seen that improve. In fact, we've seen it decrease significantly."

System pressure points

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said the government's priority seems to be making the list less of a public relations problem rather than getting people matched with the care they need.

"The situation in our health-care system is really dire and it's getting worse," he said.

"Even if they manage to get these 17,000 people off, there's still a lot more people to get off that list."

The public needs to start seeing meaningful progress from the government on efforts to reduce wait times for procedures, backlogs in emergency departments and access to primary care, he said.

"We've seen massive growth in the amount of people that need a family doctor, particularly in the [Halifax Regional Municipality] area, and that is putting pressure on every other part of our health-care system."

Both Chender and Churchill noted that the Tories are spending record amounts on the health-care system, yet key areas, such as access to primary care, haven't improved significantly.