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Nurse practitioners seen as 'short-term solution' to Sask. family doctor shortage


As about 200,000 people in Saskatchewan are without a family doctor, nurse practitioners (NPs) could be the short-term solution.

NPs are registered nurses with advanced training. They can examine and diagnose patients, perform procedures, develop treatment plans, and prescribe medications.

"People will argue about this, but at a minimum, they can do 80 per cent of what physicians can do," adjunct professor of health policy at Simon Fraser University Steven Lewis told CTV News.

On Tuesday, the provincial government announced plans to hire 25 new NPs and fund the province's first nurse practitioner-led clinic, as a pilot project.

Lewis says this announcement could have gone further, but will get people who need primary care "through the door."

"Nurse practitioners practicing more or less by themselves are certainly a short-term solution to get those thousands of people who don't have a regular source of primary care, a medical home," Lewis said.

Retired physician Dennis Kendel said nurse practitioners cannot be doctors' replacement.

"If we can get more nurse practitioners practicing in the system, it will improve access to primary care. I think we have to be careful though that we're not seeing that as a substitute for family doctors because you can't just swap a nurse practitioner for a family doctor," Kendel said, adding that Saskatchewan shouldn't lose its focus on recruiting and retaining doctors.

Both Kendel and Lewis agree the real, long-term solution is medical teams — where nurses, doctors, pharmacists and specialists work together to provide streamlined care.

"They work together. They share the same record. They communicate with each other. As opposed to having all these practitioners in silos, and then the patient's care becomes very fragmented," Kendel told CTV News.

There are about nine privately-owned nurse practitioner clinics in Saskatchewan.

Lisa Clark-Musschoot's runs private medical clinics in Regina and Saskatoon called Nero's House.

"I see a lot of patients who can't get in to see their family doctor. I see orphan patients, patients who have no family doctor," Clark-Musschoot said.

Patients pay out of pocket at Nero's House and can submit the cost through insurance.

The new provincially-funded clinic, set to open in Martensville in April, won't have a fee to patients.

Michelle O'Keefe, president-elect for the Saskatchewan Association of Nurse Practitioners, said the clinic will look similar to medical clinics run by physicians.

"Right now if a patient is seeing a nurse practitioner in the private setting, then they have to pay a fee out of pocket. So this should be removing that barrier ... because the NP is being paid through alternative funding," O'Keefe said.

Saskatchewan's Health Minister Everett Hindley said details about the new clinic's cost will be revealed in the provincial budget next week.

"What we're trying to do is make sure that we provide more opportunities for people to be able to access their health care — maybe it's a family doctor, maybe it's a nurse practitioner," Hindley said. Top Stories

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