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Health-care fix needs innovative thinking

['Commentary with Geoff deGannes']
['Commentary with Geoff deGannes']

Commentary with Geoff deGannes

Surely we have learned by now that most campaign promises are meant to be broken and that Liberals, Tories and New Democratic governments are equally proficient at doing it.  

It was in the 1928 U.S. election campaign that the Republican Party touted that “Republican prosperity" had provided a "chicken in every pot. And a car in every backyard, to boot." 

Fast forward to Nova Scotia’s 2013 election campaign and a Liberal promise to have “a doctor for every Nova Scotian.” That may never come to pass, but it hasn’t stopped the government from pumping $52 million in new spending for various health-care projects in this week’s provincial budget, including $19.6 million to recruit, retain and train more doctors  

Nearly half of the province’s total expenditures now go toward health care, with that department’s budget totalling $4.37 billion this year. 

Surely we need to be more innovative in finding solutions to our current health care dilemma that will result in better delivery of services to patients where and when there are physician shortages. 

In a recent CBC health care series, other health care professionals have indicated there is much more they could be doing to help ease the workload on physicians if their scopes of practice were broadened.  

Nova Scotia Nurses' Union president Janet Hazelton said she thinks registered nurses, family practice nurses and nurse practitioners in the province aren't being used to their full abilities. 

While nurse practitioners are becoming more common as the province rolls out more collaborative-care clinics, Hazelton said she'd like to see consideration given to putting nurse practitioners on their own in areas that struggle to attract a doctor. The Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia is another group that believes their skills and expertise are being underutilized in this province. 

Patients are more likely to confer with their pharmacist about symptoms than they are any other medical professional. As association CEO Allison Bodnar points out there are a variety of minor illnesses for which pharmacists are trained to assess, diagnose and prescribe and she says taking those minor cases out of emergency rooms or doctors' offices makes space for more pressing patients. 

Pharmacists in Nova Scotia are allowed to renew prescriptions for 90 days, do some injections, prescribe for some minor ailments and help manage chronic disease cases. There is no reason why Nova Scotia couldn’t mirror what is happening in Alberta where pharmacists can prescribe most drugs other than narcotics for up to a year. 

Another means of relieving the pressure on the emergency room physician would be the introduction of physician assistants to the province’s health care system similar to what exists in New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba.

The role is considered a "physician extender," sort of akin to a lifelong medical school resident. Working under the supervision of a doctor, the physician assistant takes on tasks and patients as delegated by his or her supervisor. They can also write prescriptions.

In a province where there is increasing pressure on our already over-burdened health care system by an aging population, surely we could be more innovative in ensuring we are tapping the potential of all our health care professionals.  

As Janet Hazelton says “there is plenty of work to go around.” The onus should now be on officials of the Nova Scotia Health Authority to start providing the leadership by taking whatever steps are needed to get it done.

Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.

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