The Urgent Care Centre at the Oceanside Health Centre in Parksville will be open one hour less each day, starting August 1.
Urgent Care will see patients from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., seven days a week. Since it opened in September of 2013, the centre has been open from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
“Our data shows that the majority of people seek treatment in urgent care between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., which we know is contributing to longer triage-to-discharge times for those patients who present with less urgent health issues,” Dr. Ben Williams, the medical lead of Oceanside Health Services, said through an Island Health news release. “We also know that long waits have resulted in some patients leaving urgent care without being seen by the clinical care team.”
This announcement comes on the heels of news that the OHC is losing its only primary care physician to retirement.
“Both are a reflection of a shortage of family physicians nationwide,” Williams told The NEWS in a telephone interview on Thursday.
Williams said the new hours in urgent care will make the shifts more “manageable” for doctors, most of which have busy practices of their own.
“They come here out of generosity, off the sides of their plates,” he said.
According to Williams, urgent care averaged 50-55 patients a day when it first opened. In June that was up to 70-plus a day and there were days when there were more than 90 patients.
“The increase in volume has been dramatic,” he said.
Some people who are waiting a long time to be seen by a physician in urgent care are leaving the health centre without treatment and Williams said “we have to do better with them. To many are leaving without seeing a doctor. That’s scary — they might be really sick.”
Williams said the reduction in open hours at urgent care might also help the OHC avoid closing the urgent care centre when it finds itself without a doctor, something that ha happened in the past.
“To me, that’s not tenable,” said Williams. “We have to have consistent service for this community.”
Williams also said he “speaks to potential recruits, several times a week.”
According to Island Health, data for the first 18 months of urgent care service shows an average of four to six patient arrivals per hour between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Patient arrivals steadily decrease after 4 p.m., with an average of 3.5 to four arrivals per hour after 4 p.m., an average of 2.5 arrivals after 8 p.m. and an average of 1.5 arrivals per hour between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
According to Island Health, the data indicates that urgent care is performing well in terms of meeting the four-hour triage-to-discharge target almost 90 per cent of the time for patients presenting with more urgent needs and therefore needing more clinical intervention. While urgent care’s goal is to meet a triage-to-discharge target of two hours 75 per cent of the time for patients presenting with less urgent conditions, currently this target is being met only 65 per cent of the time.
Adjusting urgent care’s closure time by one hour will allow more flexibility with respect to start and end times for nursing shifts to ensure adequate nursing resources are in place at the right times throughout the day, and in turn, improve triage-to-discharge times for less urgent patients, Island Health said through a news release. It is anticipated that it will also assist in recruiting more physicians to work in urgent care at OHC.
“The majority of physicians who cover shifts in urgent care also work in private practice or in a hospital,” Williams said in the release. “The late hour of shift completion is a challenge for physicians who have early morning starts in their practices and hospital-based work. It is also a negative factor in recruitment of physicians, which is already very challenging due to the current physician shortage across North America.”
Urgent care assesses and treats medical conditions that need same-day care but do not require hospital-based emergency department services. According to Island health, medical conditions that can be treated in urgent care include asthma, simple fractures, lacerations, acute pain, shortness of breath, infections and allergic reactions. Patients experiencing symptoms of stroke or heart attack or have suffered a major trauma should call 9-1-1.