02/22/2013 16:51 EST | Updated 04/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Family doctors available to all by 2015, province promises

The provincial government and the B.C. Medical Association have announced a new $132-million pilot program they say will ensure everyone who wants a family doctor will be able to access one by 2015.

The provincial health ministry Minister of Health Margaret MacDiarmid says 'A GP for Me' is based on the success of a pilot that matched physicians to more than 9,000 patients in the Cowichan Valley, Prince George and White Rock–South Surrey who were seeking general practitioners.

The province says the plan will improve access to general practitioners by putting $22 million towards funding phone consultations.

"Patients will now be able to consult with their family doctor over the telephone and the family doctor will be able to be compensated for that," MacDiarmid said.

Physicians will be able to bill $15 per phone consultation, and are capped at a total of 500 calls per year.

Doctors will also be able to bill the province $40 per 15-minute patient conference for the purposes of co-ordinating care planning with other health care providers, up to a total of three hours per patient per calendar year.

Financial incentives for complex cases

MacDiarmid said the program also allocated $20 million toward creating incentives for physicians to take on patients with more complex care needs.

"There are going to be supports provided for patients who don't have family doctors and who have specific conditions, like cancer, severe disabilities and mental health issues," she said.

Doctors who agree to become the primary health care provider for members of vulnerable populations — including frail elderly patients; patients with cancer, severe disabilities, mental health or substance use patterns; and pregnant patients — will receive $200 per patient.

Another $18.5 million will go to expanding the current complex care management fee for a wider range of high-needs patients, including those with cancer and pregnant women. Physicians will receive $315 per patient per calendar year.

MacDiarmid says the ministry is also launching an in-patient care program to better co-ordinate patient care as they move and transition from hospital settings back into the community and to their family doctors' care.

The new program is supported by $132.4 million in funding, most of which comes from the existing physician master agreement negotiated with the B.C. Medical Association in 2012.

The program launches on Apr. 1.