Critical Condition Part 3: How technology and the ‘rural model’ could ease B.C.’s doctor crisis

WatchSome Vancouver Islanders are coming up with their own solutions to the doctor shortage. April Lawrence has a closer look at technology and recruitment efforts in part three of our series.

Dr. Sundren Govender is in his Victoria office consulting with a patient but that patient, Sean Stokes, is in the middle of a forest.

“I’m north of Fort St. John just outside of a small little community called Wonowon,” Stokes said.

The visit is possible thanks to software Govender and his Vancouver Island team have developed called Synaptek.

Facing an increasing workload with aging patients needing more time, the Oak Bay doctor knew something had to change.

“Either we slow down our practice or we find ways to optimize how we were going about our work,” Govender said.

The goal of the telehealth and virtual office assistant software is also to make the work of managing an office, and hundreds of patients, more efficient.

“At a key stroke I can recall 40 patients as opposed to making 40 phone calls,” said Govender’s medical office assistant Sharon Neal.

It’s just one new tool in an attempt to deal with a crisis that’s left nearly one quarter of Greater Victoria’s population at walk-in clinics instead of doctor’s offices.

On Northern Vancouver Island a group of medical students is taking a unique approach to addressing the shortage. They’re part of the Island Medical Program’s ‘traveling roadshow’introducing highschool students to careers in medicine.

“So people standing at the back of the room who haven’t thought about what they wanted to do and this might be a good path for them,” said medical school student Hamish Frayne.

It’s the first time they’ve brought the program to Vancouver Island and the hope is to draw high school kids into healthcare, and then eventually back to the rural communities they come from.

But while small communities used to face the biggest health care challenges in BC, things have changed.

“The ease of finding a physician in rural areas is easier, we definitely do see lower unattached rates,” said Port McNeill’s Dr. David Whittaker.

Whittaker moved to Port McNeil from South Africa seven years ago. He believes the government’s move away from single family practices to team-based clinics, which they’ve had for years in rural areas, is a good one.

“It’s a model of care that we really value and we’re glad that urban areas are starting to incorporate it too,” Whittaker said.

It’s typically been a requirement for foreign trained doctors to spend their first few years in rural communities but the province is now looking at moving them directly into cities, where the need is now higher.

There are 58 residency positions for international medical graduates in B.C. In 2003 it was only six.


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