A program giving more New Brunswickers access to doctors has expanded to Fredericton and Woodstock.
Health Link started in Moncton and allowed those on the Patient Connect wait list to get in-person, phone or online appointments with a doctor or nurse practitioner.
Health Minister Bruce Fitch says the program has yielded good results. When people register with Health Link, they are removed from the wait list. Fitch said the list has dropped from around 74,000 people to about 59,000.
He said the program will reduce emergency room visits since people with non-urgent requests can make an appointment with the Health Link clinic or even be diverted there from the emergency room.
“It addresses a number of things, some of the congestion in the emergency rooms and some of the stress there, but also making sure people are getting primary care … before it exaggerates or expands and causes other problems and they end up in the emergency room,” said Fitch.
In Moncton, Fitch said there is an indication that more people are using Health Link for things they used to go to the emergency room for.
So far, 14,207 New Brunswickers are registered with the program.
Fitch said the clinic in the Fredericton Medical Centre on Regent Street will have three different doctors and the patient files will be kept there, which is how it differs from a walk-in clinic.
So even if a patient sees one of the doctors one week and another the next week, they will still have some continuity to their care, said Fitch, since their files will be accessible by all the doctors at the clinic.
He said some people have been able to get an appointment at the clinic within a day, which he called “encouraging.”
Although people registered with Health Link are taken off the Patient Connect list, Fitch said a Health Link clinic is like a “temporary home.”
But as New Brunswick’s population grows, Fitch said the need for the clinics might continue.
“I think there may be a longer-term opportunity for Health Link to fill the gap that’s needed in our primary care,” said Fitch.
Still, he said the ultimate goal is to provide every New Brunswicker with a primary care provider, with Health Link acting as a place to get temporary care for a newcomer or someone who recently lost a doctor.