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Nova Scotia boosts use of telehealth, EMRs

Heather JohnsonHALIFAX – The Nova Scotia government is offering doctors a pay and incentive package worth $39.6 million. Part of the funding will be used to pay for telephone consults, as well to incentivize doctors to use electronic medical records.

One of the changes eliminates a long-standing irritant for doctors who have preferred or would like to communicate with their patients by phone or email. The government has simplified the process.

“This allows us to expand on the existing telephone fees that were effectively useless because there were so many stipulations around them,” said Dr. Tim Holland, president-elect of Doctors Nova Scotia. “It took more time to actually do the paperwork around the phone call than it did to do the phone call. This opens that up to allow that family physician to start using the telephone.

“While that might not seem new and cutting edge technology, it does move ahead medicine quite far,” CBC News reported.

Dr. Heather Johnson (pictured), who runs a collaborative practice in Bridgewater, is anxious to deal with some of her patients by phone rather than in person.

“It will be easier for me to see people like the frail elderly or people who have transportation problems, people with chronic disease, who their disease care takes up a huge portion of their personal time,” Johnson told reporters at a news conference. “I will be able to allow technology to facilitate their care more easily.

“It will be easier for my patients and hopefully then free up some time that will allow the other patients who need to see me face to face easier access,” she said.

Doctors who sign on to the telephone and e-health pilot project will be eligible to share in the $4.2 million the province is making available in a technology incentive.

The province is also offering doctors a total of $8.5 million to change over to or update their electronic medical record-keeping system.

According to Doctors Nova Scotia, about 80 percent of family doctors currently keep e-health records. This is an attempt to convince the remaining 20 percent to switch from paper files or to help those who already have them on computer to update their software.

Doctors Nova Scotia president-elect Dr. Tim Holland called the incentives “a great first step in making Nova Scotia more competitive across the Atlantic provinces, which will thereby retain the physicians we have here, encourage physicians that may have left to come back and to keep new grads in Nova Scotia.”

Part of the funding – $13.9 million – will go toward increasing amounts for fee-for-service and the alternative payment plan for family doctors.

Every visit from a patient under the age of 65 will now earn doctors $36, instead of the current rate of $31.72. For patients over 65, doctors will earn $44.54, up from the current $40.26 charge.

There’s also an incentive program for family doctors who take on new patients, either those referred to them through an emergency room visit or one of the 44,000 people who have officially registered as in need of a doctor.

The $6.4-million patient attachment incentive will give doctors a one-time payment of $150 for every new patient they take on.

A $6.6-million enrolment incentive will give doctors $7.50 per patient for every person they see regularly at their practice. They must agree to share that information with the province.

Doctors Nova Scotia estimates the raise, combined with the new incentives, could see family doctors receiving $20,000 to $30,000 more a year.

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