Modern technology will allow a retiring West Prince doctor to continue providing care to patients while recruitment efforts to find his replacement continue.
Dr Declan Fox’s last day to see patients at the Tignish Health Centre was on Sept. 27. The 65-year-old, along with his wife Deirdre, will be moving back to Ireland.
Practicing medicine for 40 years, Dr Fox gave formal notice of his retirement about 18 months ago. Since then, he has been assisting Health PEI in the search to find his replacement. A search that unfortunately has yet to secure a new permanent physician for the health centre.
“It was slow,” Dr Fox admitted. “We thought we would have a lot more interest. We advertise some in Ireland and we got a few people that were interested, but most of them really didn’t have the experience that was needed for here.”
Health centre manager Wendy Arsenault said they are continuing to work closely with the province’s Recruitment and Retention Secretariat, placing advertisements in the Canadian Family Physicians Magazine and looking to find locum physicians and/or a nurse practitioner to take over the practice on a temporary basis until a full-time physician is located.
“We are very optimistic,” she said.“We know everyone is working hard on this... We’re not the only community or province looking, everybody has been hit hard trying to find physicians. I feel very strongly we’re going to get a proper fit here.”
In the meantime, as a temporary measure, Dr Fox will continue to treat some of his patients virtually by using the same technology as the tele-rounding project at Western Hospital.
“I was kind of keen if I could do anything on a part-time basis to help out I would,” he said.
Dr Fox said the health centre switching to electronic medical records has made the use of the tele-rounding technology possible. It will allow him to be able to have access to patients records remotely.
The plan is that Dr Fox will see patients once a week at the centre during regular scheduled appointments and will be able to discuss their health issues through technology similar to video-conferencing.
Dr Fox said staff have spoken to patients about using the technology and most seem happy the health centre has found a way that will allow them to keep offering their services.
“The biggest benefit to that is it is Dr Fox and people know him,” said Ms Arsenault. “That trust is already developed between patient and doctor, so I think it’s going to work really well.”
Dr Fox officially took over the practice at the Tignish Health Centre in March 2014. Since March 2000, Dr Fox had been travelling back and forth between PEI and his home country of Ireland, working mainly in the O’Leary area.
Dr Fox said the appeal of the Tignish Health Centre, which operates as a co-op, is the fact its an independent facility.
“We were able to come in here and work with them,” he said. “We able to change things in a way we thought worked best for the patients. We were able to focus on patient care.”
Major renovations to the health centre completed in 2018 and a switch to electronic medical records helped to modernize the Phillip Street facility.
“The co-op board was quite happy to facilitate as much as they could,” said Dr Fox. “They knew we were interested in looking after the people here. As a community co-op, that was their focus as well.”
Dr Fox said the collaborative spirit of the health centre, which provides a variety services including a dental office and a pharmacy, makes it a nice place to work.
“Patients are very pleasant to deal with and colleagues are generally very good to deal with and there is a good air here of ‘let’s get the job done’ and do what’s best for this patient,” he said.
Ms Arsenault said Dr Fox has helped to bring the health centre up-to-date, which they are hoping will make it appealing to another physician.
“We’re going to miss them,” she said about Dr Fox and his wife. “He ran a very good collaborative practice. It was just perfect. It’s sad to see that come to an end, but as much as we are going to miss Dr Fox, we’re hoping that we will find another perfect fit for the centre.”