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Nova Scotia Health launches pilot for family practice anesthesiology in Yarmouth to help address surgery backlogs and anesthetist shortages

To help address the national shortage of physicians who can administer anesthesia during surgeries, Nova Scotia Health has launched a two-month pilot for family practice anesthetists (FPAs) at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital.  

Prominent in Ontario and British Columbia, FPAs are family physicians who have received the required training and certification to administer anesthesia during surgery. They provide local and general anesthetics and provide support on surgical cases that are less complex. This additional support can make the best use of anesthesiology specialists to support those cases needing the more robust scope of practice.

The pilot is allowing two qualified family physicians to provide support for scheduled surgical lists and on-call support. They will work alongside a Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada-certified anesthesiologist who has travelled from Ontario to oversee the pilot.

Dr. Annie Lu is a family physician from Ontario participating in the pilot project. She feels the pilot is a step toward filling a gap in the health care system, especially in rural centres.

“The pilot will be a good opportunity for Nova Scotia Health to tap into resources that other parts of the country have already been using for many years in a safe and effective way,” explained Dr. Lu.  

Originally from Toronto, Dr. Lu attended the University of Guelph and earned an honours degree in Microbiology before attending medical school at the University of Toronto. She completed residency training through McMaster Univer­sity’s Rural Family Medicine Program and a one-year fellowship in anesthesia for family practice at Western University. Dr. Lu is currently a family physician in Wellington, Ontario and provides anesthesia services at the local hospital, which involves on call services for obstetrics and emergency departments.

“FPAs allow for an increase in people being on call for surgeries and providing relief and support for each other, especially at hospitals with a limited number of anesthesiologists,” said Dr. Lu.

Dr. Lu noted that FPAs can provide valuable continuation of care and a focus on holistic care.

“I often see a patient in my family practice office, and it is not unusual to see them in the operating room. That continuity of care can be reassuring for patients because someone is in the operating room that knows their history and background.”

Dr. Doug Kiss is also taking part in the pilot. He completed residency training in family medicine in Yarmouth and currently practices as a hospitalist and emergency medicine physician at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital. Dr. Kiss completed his anesthesia training in Ottawa last year and travels to Ontario every few weeks to do anesthesia in a hospital there. 

Dr. Lu believes that FPAs not only help keep the operating rooms busy, but also allow family physicians to utilize their broad training,expertise and practice in different areas of the health care system. With many FPAs currently being trained across Canada, she said it allows Nova Scotia to tap into this pool for recruitment.

She looks forward to working in a different environment and seeing how anesthetists do things in another facility and learning different ways to practice anesthesia.  

The FPA pilot will undergo an evaluation process to ensure the model is an appropriate and efficient model for the healthcare system in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia has a multi-year, multi-pronged plan underway to improve access to surgical care and reduce surgical wait lists to help achieve wait time targets. Investing in new roles and fully leveraging the skills of various health care providers to support care is key to this plan.

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