Column: Primary Care in B.C.

My staff and I have been organizing a series of forums on health care for our community and one theme has emerged in each topic, be it oral health, eye health, or aging: The decisions and habits we make now will affect our health and our future, and when problems are caught early, they are often easier to treat.

Having access to a primary health care professional is an important aspect of preventative health, and the best way for British Columbians to address concerns they might have early on. Our government and the B.C. Medical Association are working together to increase access to family doctors and primary health care through the “A GP for Me” program. This program is supported by $132.4 million in funding, and involves more than 4,000 family physicians across the province.

We are addressing the number of family doctors in the province and working to double the number of seats for first-year medical students, already up from 128 in 2001 to 288 in 2013. We have committed more than $265 million to create and expand clinical academic space, and have created new medical education centres, including right here at UBC Okanagan.

As of 2013, we have increased the number of general practitioners by 25 per cent from 2001 levels through a range of strategies, including working with the B.C. Medical Association to encourage family doctors to establish practices in B.C. During this time, we invested $800 million to encourage doctors to become family physicians, as well as continuing investment in chronic disease management.

We’ve made a lot of progress, but there’s still hard work to be done. Our health care system faces challenges and an aging population, but there are things we can do to reduce the strain on the system moving forward.

We are educating British Columbians and equipping families with the tools they need to create long-lasting healthy habits, like quitting smoking, proper nutrition and exercise. People who stay healthy spend less time in emergency rooms and free up space for those who need to seek medical attention. Nurse practitioners are also a cost-effective way for our government to deliver accessible, high-quality health care, and our government invested $22 million in 2012 to train 190 new nurse practitioners over three years.

You can find a general practitioner near you by visiting cpsbc.ca/physician_search, and narrow your search by “accepting new patients” and postal code.

When we invest in primary health care, we are making sure British Columbians receive the medical attention they need, when they need it, and we save taxpayer dollars in the long-run by avoiding costly emergency visits for problems that could have been prevented. Your health is the most important thing, and the time you invest in your health and habits now will keep you healthy into the future.