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“Operation Family Doc” brings FP care to nomadic military families

Physicians in the Ottawa area have helped launch a pilot program to deliver care to military families that do not have access to a family doctor because of constant moves related to new postings.

Under Operation Family Doc, which was created by the Academy of Medicine Ottawa in collaboration with the Military Family Resource Centre -National Capital Region (MFRC-NCR), more than 150 family physicians have agreed to accept referrals of family members of personnel transferred to the Ottawa area.

The issue is important because only serving personnel are usually eligible to receive care from military physicians. This means that their family members must seek care from civilian MDs, and this can create major problems because military families are estimated to move three times more often than their civilian counterparts and are four times less likely to have a family doctor.

“CF families are wholly dependent upon the same provincial health care services as any other Canadian,” Canadian Forces Ombudsman Pierre Daigle wrote in a recent report. “Like many Canadians, military families often find it difficult to secure a family doctor, as well as specialist practitioners. The difference from most Canadians, however, is that military families experience this process repeatedly because of relocations. As a result, military families go through protracted periods of bouncing from one waiting list to the next, rarely making it to the top.”

Dawna Ramsay, executive director at the Academy of Medicine Ottawa, said the pilot program was launched in September 2012. Within the first nine months, 263 family referrals to an Ottawa-area FP had taken place, involving more than 500 family members of armed forces personnel.

CMA President Louis Hugo Francescutti, an honorary colonel with the Royal Canadian Medical Service, said the issue is significant. “Even though forces’ personnel have access to military physicians regardless of where they move, family members have to find a new doctor with each new posting. Given that more than four million Canadians do not have a family doctor, it’s easy to see that these families can face a difficult task and may be forced to rely on drop-in clinics and emergency rooms for an entire posting.”

He praised Ottawa-area doctors “for responding to the need, and responding well.”

The issue was raised during the CMA’s last annual meeting by Dr. Eoghan O’Shea, an Ottawa FP. This resulted in passage of a resolution calling on the CMA to work with provincial and territorial medical associations to ensure that members of military families, as well as retiring personnel and personnel being released from service, “have continuous access to a local family physician” when they relocate.

Data from the MFRC-NCR indicate that 158 family physicians in 51 locations throughout the Ottawa area had signed up for Operation Family Doc by February 2014, and 490 families totalling 997 patients had been referred to them. The centre is also seeking physician participants in the Outaouais, the region of Quebec that borders Ottawa.

Robyn Curry, who manages Operation Family Doc for MFRC-NCR, says a similar pilot program is being planned for the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Cold Lake, Alta.

Physicians interested in the program can contact the Military Family Resource Centre in Ottawa, ofd@mfrc-ncr.org; 613-993-8671.

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.