A new five-year agreement for the province’s doctors is expected to boost attraction and retention of physicians to rural areas, decrease emergency room closures and entice doctors to spend more quality time with patients.
The Master Agreement between Doctors Nova Scotia and the Department of Health will cost the province $616 million over the five years and Health Minister Chris d’Entremont said it’s intended to change the overall system of healthcare in the province.
Doctors will receive monetary incentives to do the less attractive jobs. “We’ll see more doctors staying in Nova Scotia,” he said.
Doctors in the province voted 71 per cent in favour of the agreement and although many of the specific terms have yet to be tweaked, some of the incentives will be retroactive to April 1 of this year.
Emergency room doctors in Halifax, for example, will see an increase in hourly wages, jumping from $134.81 an hour to $156.10 an hour.
Doctors working in rural areas will receive an additional $5,000 after three years of service in a rural community and each year following will bring additional money ending with a $12,000 bonus in the seventh year.
With the changing demographics and increasing prevalence of chronic disease, doctors who spend more time with chronic care patients will be compensated accordingly said Don Pugsley, president of Doctors Nova Scotia.
“We went into this (agreement) knowing status quo is not an option,” he said.
Doctors will also receive additional remuneration for more difficult medical cases.
A general practitioner who takes in patients with more severe and chronic ailments such as diabetes, for example, will be paid accordingly for work done with those patients than for working with a healthier patient with a minor ailment.
Doctors encouraged to widen care
The new Master Agreement for doctors in the province will encourage physicians to care for a wider spectrum of patients, says one rural doctor.
“You’ll get paid better to look after people who have illness as opposed to being paid well for looking after people who have relatively minor illness,” said Tim Woodford, a general practitioner who has worked at a Liverpool practice for 22 years.
Before the new agreement, a physician who saw five healthy patients in one hour would be paid per service, which means five times the service amount of about $130.
But a doctor who saw only one or two more severely ill patients in the same time would make less than half that.
The new agreement ensures doctors are compensated for the work that they do, not the number of people they see.
“I can see that this agreement addresses those issues of looking after people that need to be looked after.”
In addition, doctors who cover a wide spectrum of care including emergency rooms, nursing homes, hospitals, elderly care, prenatal care and house calls will see the results of their hard work in their pay cheques.
Woodford said rural doctors have no choice but to cover various areas of care.