If you have a pressing medical issue and can’t get in to see your family doctor, you’ll most likely go to a walk-in clinic or your nearest emergency room. One doctor in Powell River is taking positive action to deal with this challenge. Dr Danielle Marentette’s family practice clinic has adopted a new appointment scheduling system so that patients can get into the office on the same day they call for an appointment.

Marentette has adopted the Advanced Access system, a new way of scheduling appointments so that patients can more easily be seen at the time they prefer and, if necessary, on the same day. For busy practices, Advanced Access scheduling also helps eliminate backlogged appointments and enables more patient visits throughout the day.

Advanced Access scheduling is one of the practice innovations popularized by the Practice Support Program (PSP), a joint initiative of Doctors of BC and the BC Ministry of Health that provides training and support for physicians and their medical office assistants (MOAs) designed to improve clinical and practice management and to support enhanced delivery of patient care.

Marentette had taken over a large practice where patients had to wait weeks for appointments. She was also providing maternity care so would sometimes have to shut the office without notice and reschedule patients. With her own maternity leave looming, she wanted flexibility and predictability for herself and her patients. Advanced Access scheduling fit the bill.

She and her MOA took part in the PSP’s Advanced Access learning module and put the new system in place a year ago. “Now we pre-book about 30% of appointments, with certain procedures or a full physical, etc. booking up to two weeks ahead,” she explains. “All the other slots are booked the day before or the day that the patient calls in.”

She reports that the new system is working very well. “It took some getting used to, but we’d worked hard to educate our patients beforehand,” she says. “The PSP gave us pamphlets, and our staff had a script for talking to people on the phone. The staff members love Advanced Access because now they can get patients in right away, so patients are happier coming into the office.”

Kim McDowell is a busy mom of three whose family members are patients of Marentette’s. She says the new system makes it much easier to see a doctor.

“If it’s not urgent, you book and get in later on, maybe a few days later,” she says. “If it’s urgent, it’s wonderful. My son was ill one evening, so I called first thing the next morning and got an appointment right away. An hour and a half later we had a referral to a specialist.”

McDowell says that in the past, before Marentette was using the Advanced Access system, she and her son would have been at emergency. “Even if I have to wait three hours after calling the office to see the doctor, at least I’m in the comfort of my own home, not the hospital waiting room with screaming kids.”

Marentette says Advanced Access scheduling has improved her satisfaction at work as well. “It’s great to see someone who needs to see me right away, and great to know I can get patents in for follow-up,” she notes. “And it’s definitely meant a lot less visits to emergency for patients. Even when it’s serious, I can get them directly admitted to hospital because I’ve already seen them to assess the problem.

“Advanced Access is so much better for our patients and the staff, and easier on my time,” says Marentette. “I used to have to see patients over my lunch, stay late, or send people to emergency. Now I can see patients when they need to be seen without having to work extra hours.”

The PSP began as an initiative of the General Practice Services Committee (GPSC) – a joint committee of Doctors of BC and the BC Ministry of Health (the ministry) – and now receives additional direction, support, and funding from the Shared Care Committee and the Specialist Services Committee (also partnerships between Doctors of BC and the ministry).