N.B. health minister announces plan to avoid long waits in emergency departments
New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced a new project to give residents more options to access faster care and avoid long waits in emergency departments.
"This project advances commitments in the health plan to improve access to primary health care, as well as addictions and mental health services and to make better use of all the health professionals across our province, including family doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and more,” said Shephard during a news conference on Wednesday.
“I believe today represents an important turning point for primary health care in our province.”
Shephard says about 60 per cent of New Brunswick’s typical emergency department patients could be treated in a community setting if more timely access was available.
“We can provide these individuals with better options to care and provide relief to the outstretched teams in our ERs at the same time,” said Shephard.
The province is partnering with the regional health authorities, Extra-Mural/Ambulance New Brunswick, and community health providers to accelerate plans to provide New Brunswickers with alternatives so they do not need to go to the emergency room for care that can be delivered in the community.
“Work remains to fulfill our vision of a completely integrated system of community services and changes will be likely. However, these are critical steps forward that will inform our journey and provide New Brunswickers with access to better care,” said Shephard.
Shephard says emergency departments will continue to see patients for emergency health needs such as chest pains, signs of stroke, and broken bones. Individuals who feel they might hurt themselves, or are victims of sexual assault, should still go to the hospital.
“If you are experiencing an emergency and think you might need urgent transportation to the hospital, I urge you to call 911. An ambulance will be dispatched to your home, just like it always has been. However, paramedics will use their clinical judgment to determine whether transport to the hospital is required, or if other health-care options are better suited to your needs,” said Shephard.
Beginning Monday, paramedics will have the option to treat and release patients.
Shephard says residents with a family doctor or nurse practitioner who need access to general health services should contact their provider first. If an appointment can’t be made in a timely manner and a health need is pressing, the health minister says other options are available before visiting the emergency department.
“Pharmacists are now able to renew prescriptions, whether you have a primary care provider or not. They can answer questions about medications, prescribe treatment for minor conditions, including urinary tract infections, skin conditions, fungal infections, and answer questions about vaccinations,” she said.
New Brunswickers can also call 811 to receive support from a nurse and get a referral to additional services.
“The tele-care 811 service has been expanded to include in-person community appointments and virtual appointments that can be accessed within a 24-hour period,” said Shephard.
The health minister also suggested walk-in clinics and virtual walk-in clinics as another alternative for New Brunswickers looking for a consultation with a doctor or nurse practitioner.
“We are demonstrating that we can use technology to connect New Brunswickers to the care they need. Pharmacists and paramedics will be using their training and skills to have an even greater impact on the lives of New Brunswickers,” said Shephard.
According to Shephard, access to primary health-care providers has been an issue in New Brunswick for a long time. The New Brunswick Health Council has been tracking primary health-care access for a decade and released a new report in November 2021 that indicates 91 per cent of New Brunswickers have a primary care provider -- either a family doctor or nurse practitioner.
“This is one of the highest rates in the country. However, only 57 per cent of New Brunswickers reported going to their family doctor most often when they need care. This number has been virtually unchanged since the health council issued its first report on primary health care in 2011,” said Shephard.
“When patients can’t get care for their pressing health need in a timely way, they end up in our emergency rooms. It is not the appropriate place for that type of care at any time, but especially right now.”
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