The province has announced the details of a $4.2-million pilot program that will encourage doctors to communicate electronically with their patients.
Family doctors who take part in the technology incentive pilot program will receive up to $12,000 a year, the Department of Health and Wellness said in a news release Thursday.
The one-year pilot project was originally announced in March as part of $39.6 million in spending that increased doctors’ compensation and introduced other incentives such as the $150 per new patient program.
The technology incentive program and its eligibility criteria were developed by a working group of family doctors from across the province, the release said.
The online component of the program will use the website myhealthns.ca, which was established in 2012. The site allows patients to see test results and communicate with their doctor electronically but only if the doctor signs them into the system.
Dr. Stewart Cameron, the physician adviser for myhealthns.ca called it “a powerful tool” that can engage patients in their own health care. But he said e-communication doesn’t work in all health-care situations.
“This is not going to be useful for acute care,” Cameron said in an interview Thursday. “If someone is sick, they need to come in and be assessed by taking a full history, physical exam and so forth.
“However, there are a lot of interactions that Nova Scotia family doctors have with their patients that are not over acute illness. It’s over health maintenance, it’s over managing chronic illness and that’s where I see this being a big plus.”
For example, a patient with high blood pressure who isn’t experiencing acute symptoms but needs their prescription refilled can communicate this to their doctor on their myhealthns page, Cameron said.
“The doctor’s in the office, sees that, says, ‘Oh, he’s doing OK, I will send in a refill.’ That saves a colossal amount of time for the patient, it saves time for the physician, it may open up a space so someone who’s really sick can be attended to and seen. So we see this as providing a very valuable model of care but it’s not going to replace the face-to-face contact that’s necessary for sick people.”
Only about 250 out of the province’s 963 family doctors take part in the myhealthns.ca program, with about 13,000 patients signed up.
“That’s not enough,” said Cameron, a family doctor now retired from his Halifax practice who works as a medical consultant. “We have doctors whohaven’t joined up, we have doctors who joined up but haven’t signed up their patients and to be fair to them, they haven’t been paid for doing this. What’s good about today’s announcement is that we’re finally providing some compensation in this pilot to pay doctors for their time and that has been a major stumbling block.”
Doctors will be paid $3,000 every three months to the maximum of $12,000 per year. Full-time doctors must invite at least 20 patients per month until most of their patients are on board. If the doctor is part-time, the patient number requirements would beadjusted accordingly.
Participating doctors must actively use the myhealthns.ca system and allow the province to evaluate their activity. As well, doctors must respond to electronic messages from patients online or by phone.
The $4.2 million that has been set aside would pay for about 100 additional doctors to take part in myhealthns, Cameron noted. But the province has indicated it would pony up additional cash if the response goes beyond that number, he said.
“This is good news for Nova Scotians and for the family doctors who care for them,” said Doctors Nova Scotia president Dr. Tim Holland, in the news release Thursday. “Supporting doctors to use technology will make it more convenient for patients to receive information electronically or by telephone while improving access for those who really need face-toface care.