New centralized waitlist connects Cowichan residents with family doctors

Here’s how to register and where to go for health care in the meantime.

Residents of the Cowichan region no longer need to call individual clinics in hopes of finding a family doctor or nurse practitioner who will accept new patients. As of April 2021, there’s a new, centralized waitlist for people seeking a primary care provider. 

People can register for the Health Connect Registry online or by calling HealthLinkBC at 811. 

The Cowichan Primary Care Network, announced last year, is hiring doctors, nurse practitioners and other care providers with the goal of connecting 16,750 people to primary care over four years. More than 1,300 people have matched with a care provider through that network so far. As of late November, there were 1,732 people on the Health Connect Registry wait list.

Related article: For many Cowichan Valley residents, the doctor is not in

Other ways to find a family doctor or nurse practitioner

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The website Find a Doctor BC compiles information about which clinics may be accepting new patients. It also has information about walk-in clinics.

The BC College of Family Physicians recommends calling HealthlinkBC or speaking with family, friends and health-care providers about opportunities to connect with a family doctor or other primary care provider. 

How to seek care in the meantime

There are a number of walk-in clinics in the region where people can see a doctor. Some take appointments and some offer telephone and video consultations. The Pathways Medical Care Directory has information about local walk-in clinics and other care options.

For First Nations people and their families, the First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day program offers video appointments with doctors who have been trained in cultural safety.

The Cowichan Valley Division of Family Practice encourages people to go to urgent care centres in Chemainus and in Ladysmith for issues that are urgent but not life-threatening. Those may include broken bones, cuts, burns, asthma attacks and allergy attacks. The centres are open 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily.

This poster aims to help people seek appropriate care for medical issues. Courtesy of the Cowichan Division of Family Practice

People with a very serious issue should get to the emergency room at Cowichan District Hospital as soon as possible, says Tom Rimmer, lead physician for inpatient care for the Cowichan Valley Division of Family Practice. That might include chest pain, stroke symptoms, serious abdominal pain or dehydration, he says.

“It may be congested, it may take time, but at least there’s help,” he says. “And there’s a triage system that will get those who are in trouble in fast.”

People can get local health-care information and advice any time by calling HealthLinkBC at 811. HealthLinkBC can also connect callers to registered nurses, dieticians, exercise specialists and pharmacists. 

Growing options for telehealth

In a growing trend, several private companies offer video appointments with doctors, who can prescribe medications, refer to specialists and order tests. These services tend to be free for British Columbians, covered by the province’s Medical Services Plan.

These services can fill a gap for people without a family doctor or other primary care provider. However, BC Family Doctors, an advocacy group, takes the position that telehealth is best used in the context of an ongoing relationship between the patient and doctor. The government should regulate companies to ensure that services like these are high-quality and complement a strong provincial primary-care system, the group says. [end]

Editor’s note Dec. 17, 2021: This article has been updated to acknowledge opportunities to connect with nurse practitioners as primary care providers.

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