Big changes are coming to help deal with a shortage of doctors in New Brunswick.

Announced Tuesday in Moncton, the initiatives include greater access to medical help after hours, non-emergency consultations by email, and more collaborative care in clinics.

“Patients who have good primary care make better choices and hopefully health of New Brunswickers as we move forward,” says Dr. Lynn Murphy-Kaulbeck, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society.

At 92 per cent, New Brunswick has the highest percentage of residents with a family doctor. However, only one-third can see their physician within two days.

The new program is not mandatory and doctors must opt-in as a team. This means doctors will cover each other’s patients, provide extended hours on evenings and weekends, even answering non-medical emergencies over the phone or through email.

“I think that'd be a great thing because then it would free up their time to spend with more important cases,” says New Brunswick resident Bonny Chiasson.

There is another proposal on the table - changing how doctors are paid. This would be a combination of change in salary and fee for services.

Officials with the New Brunswick Medical Society say they are confident this will lead to greater recruitment and retention of doctors in the province.

“For some people, practice location is not as important as what they're able to actually do in their day-to-day lives,” says Andrew MacLean, the director of Family Medicine New Brunswick. “If this is something that will enable them to do that, that absolutely is encouraging their choice of practice right here in New Brunswick.”

The project is a combination of best practices around the country that suit the needs of New Brunswickers.

“There are some administration costs, if you will, that will be once it's fully up and running in the vicinity of about $2 million dollars a year,” says New Brunswick Health Minister Victor Boudreau.

Boudreau says, if the program does increase access to primary care, there will be additional Medicare costs that can't be calculated until the program is up and running.

The project is not a pilot; it’s being called a living lab which means it will be implemented then tweaked along the way.

The New Brunswick Medical Society hopes to have 100 doctors on board when they launch this program in the fall.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Jonathan MacInnis