B.C. program provides access to preventative care amid doctor crisis

A program is pairing British Columbians who are living with a chronic health condition with UBC medical and graduate students. Monika Gul reports it highlights the importance of preventative care at a time when doctors are stretched thin.

Out of her living room in Metro Vancouver, Dr. Valeriya Zaborska provides health coaching sessions.

It’s part of PLM Coach, which stands for “Prevention and Lifestyle Medicine.” It’s a program that pairs British Columbians living with a chronic health condition with UBC medical and graduate students.

Over several one-on-one sessions, the participants get free help with preventative care medicine.

“Eating well, exercising, not being sedentary, not smoking, controlling substance use, stress management — that’s the foundation for pretty much every single disease,” explained Zaborska, who helps clients try to curb certain habits to improve overall health.

Lana Harris is one of Zaborska’s clients. Harris recently moved from the Lower Mainland to Cranbrook, away from her family doctor. It was her physician who told her about the program.

“I got out a lot out of this because the transition in my life, moving here and what not … it’s just been … Val was a wonderful support,” Harris told CityNews.

The program, which has helped more than 80 people since launching at the start of the pandemic, has been expanded at a time when B.C. is facing calls to ease growing pressure on doctors.

“If you can participate in a project like this, where you get support and you work on the lifestyle aspect and sort of build skills that you can carry through your life, I think it will really help offload a little bit of that from the health-care system,” Zaborska said.

It’s a program Dr. Anna Wolak, a family physician in Vancouver, is supportive of, especially given the current situation.

“As a family physician, as much as I would love to be able to spend time with patients, going over their diet, going over their exercise, going over lifestyle with them, it’s just not able to be covered in a 10 to 15 minutes visit,” she explained.

Wolak says while preventative health care is one of the corner stones of family practice, it’s getting harder to offer amid the health crisis. While there are programs that can be accessed through 8-1-1, they’re not fulsome.

“We can prevent any sudden deterioration because we’re able to pick it up early as opposed to a reactive sort of, ‘Oh, somebody is having problems and they need to go to urgent care,’ for example. Sometimes a lot of those problems could have been prevented if they were seeing a regular family physician you know every three months,” Wolak told CityNews.

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Harris says she’d recommend a program like PLM and only wishes there were more sessions.

“I think that you will probably never get a more tailored program just for you with a doctor — even your own family doctor, ever,” she said.

“For me, just seeing that this works for people and how helpful it can be. So when someone emails me months later and they say, ‘Thank you for your help’ or ‘My health is so and so’ or ‘I went to see my doctor and some of my lab values improved because of this program.’ It’s just, it’s really rewarding,” said Zaborska.

Wait times to see doctors in B.C. have spiked in recent months amid a shortage of physicians. The issue has also put pressure on emergency care, with more people seeking treatment at hospitals and other urgent care centres.

One policy researcher previously told CityNews the cracks in the system were becoming more apparent after a number of doctors left their practices, saying the pressure the pandemic put on these people was too much to bear in some cases. Pay structure has also been cited as a struggle for many practicing physicians, who are picking up the load left as other professionals have left their practices.

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