A long-time family physician and leader of the charge to reform the way primary health care is delivered in Ontario is retiring.
Dr. Blair Fraser officially closes his practice December 31 but will be moving from Guelph in the next two weeks.
In an interview at his office on Surrey Street, Fraser said he’s spent the last three or four winters in Florida and finally decided to make retirement his full time occupation after 43 years as a family physician in Guelph.
He’s 70, in good health, and wants to spend more time with his wife Anne, their five adult children and seven grandchildren (number eight is on the way), he said. He’s building a new home in Thornbury and will be moving there in a few weeks.
“It’s been an emotional year,” he said. “Between retiring and moving, everything will change. It’s a momentous time for me.
“And it’s a different world than when I started. But the interaction with patients is still the same. And over time these become very strong bonds.”
Fraser moved to Guelph in 1974 and began to build his practice. In those days Guelph had two hospitals and two emergency departments, but no staff physicians. Hospitals relied on local doctors to cover shifts in the emergency room. At the same time most family doctors still delivered babies and made house calls and did hospital rounds.
Fraser was behind a provincial movement to restructure the way primary health is delivered and the way doctors are compensated. He and a team of doctors opened the first Family Health Network in the province in 2002.
Instead of being paid fee-for-service, doctors in the network are paid according to their patient list, or roster, allowing doctors to worry less about billable hours and really spend time with patients. The networks also included allied health professionals, like pharmacists, dietitians, physiotherapists and nurse practitioners.
The networks have been renamed Family Health Teams and have been widely adopted in communities across the province.
“Rostered practice is now the way to go,” Fraser said. “Doctors in Guelph and Wellington really were pioneers in this area. My contribution was to lead the charge for Family Health Networks and they really took off. And the team-based structure has transformed the way medicine is practiced.”
Changes in technology and new medications and procedures have also changed the way medicine is practiced, Fraser said, and the healthy lifestyle message – healthy diet and regular exercise – is also having a positive effect.
“Life expectancy has increased by more than 10 years since I became a doctor 43 years ago and that’s significant,” he said. “People are living longer and healthier and better than they used to.”
Fraser said it’s been an emotional time as he’s said goodbye to so many colleagues and patients and he has so many fond memories of his time in Guelph.
Fraser’s office secretary Wendy Fitzgerald is staying on, so there will be continuity for patients during the transition, Fraser said.
Dr. Michelle Edwards will take over Fraser’s practice Jan. 1, 2018.