Physicians Accepting Patients Cards
By Cindy Scholten, Physician Recruiter, Sarnia Lambton, Ontario, Canada, firstname.lastname@example.org, 519.383.7265
Is there a patient in the house?
In 2008, I was pleased with my recruitment efforts. However, at the same time, one of my newly recruited family physicians asked:
“I thought this was an underserviced area, why aren’t patients lining up outside my door? I thought my patient roster would fill up faster than this!”
Severe shortages of family physicians were no surprise to anyone living in Ontario, so why were half a dozen physicians still waiting to fill their rosters? Considering the number of unattached patients in Sarnia, Ontario was approximately 30,000, something wasn’t right. I decided to investigate the matter further and contacted other communities across Canada about this problem.
My findings showed three key areas of concern:
- Individuals were unattached for so many years they lost sight of the importance of obtaining a primary care physician.
- Fast-paced society: Unattached patients wait until they are sick and want to be seen now and be treated right away, therefore visiting the emergency department (ED) instead of finding a permanent physician.
- My organization was not reaching all unattached patients through current marketing efforts.
The three attention areas were not anticipated problems. This was and still is today, an underserviced area for family physicians; it was safely assumed that the physicians’ rosters would fill up quickly. Through these studies it became clear that there was a disconnect in the communications between the Physician Recruitment Taskforce and unattached patients.
How to find solutions to this problem?
Primary care education
The culture in many communities changed over time. People no longer expect to see a doctor, they watch their physicians age and retire with no one to replace them. Unattached patients become complacent with their situation and forget about the importance of obtaining a primary care physician. The unattached patient needs to become re-educated about preventative care, continuity of care and how their primary care physician should be the first person they contact when they have questions or problems. They need to be reminded that family physicians provide a continuity of care over a lifetime, leaving them with fewer trips to the emergency department.
Fast-paced society, instant treatment
To go along with the lack of primary care physicians, unattached patients became so accustomed to being treated for common coughs and colds in the emergency department that they began to rely on ED treatments. Over time, it just becomes easy for unattached patients to wait for an illness to send them looking for physicians in the emergency department. This becomes the only way they know how to cope with their health concerns. The Physician Recruitment Taskforce of Sarnia needed to find a way to communicate their new physician recruits to the emergency department so that information could be shared directly with the unattached patients seeking treatments.
Marketing to the unattached patient
When the Physician Recruitment Taskforce recruits a new family physician to the area, media announcements are made through the local papers and radio stations. These communications were missing thousands of unattached patients. How do you share that message to individuals who don’t purchase the paper, who are unable to read the news online or who may have had their radio off that day? Some of the families missing these key announcements are families with limited incomes and limited access to media and social networks.
Conclusion: Doctors Accepting Patients Cards
Among a long list of action items, the decision was made to create an easy to read, full colour poster card containing a list of all family physicians in Sarnia, Ontario who were actively accepting new patients. The flip side of the card is an education piece clearly describing four reasons why the patient should have a (primary care) physician.
Three thousand of these 3½ by 8½ inch glossy cards were printed for distribution across Sarnia and the County. The cards were placed in clear plastic stands for ease of access and strategically placed in locations that would reach the general public: pharmacies, gas stations, banks, municipal offices, restaurants, etc.
The cards were also given directly to the emergency department staff and managers and placed on the patient registration counter to inform and educate the ED patients.
To take it one step further, the exact image of the Doctors Accepting Patients Card was placed on the Taskforce website with its own tab linked to the list of Physicians Accepting. That tab on the website is now linked on the home page of many of Sarnia’s popular websites such as The City of Sarnia, Politicians’ offices, Sarnia Tourism, Local Health Unit, Live in Lambton.ca and more.
The Doctors Accepting Patients cards were so popular they ran out in less than one year. Currently, 5,000 more were printed with the addition of some new physicians.
Is it the mandate of your organization to recruit and retain family physicians? If so, what are you doing to retain your physicians? Retaining physicians means keeping them happy and supporting them through their transition periods. If a physician is not happy, he or she might opt to leave your community. These cards have proven to be very beneficial to both the unattached patient, and in retaining the physicians!