VANCOUVER - Patients needing a doctor's consultation will soon have the option of talking to their physician over the telephone now the B.C. government has agreed to pay for the call.

The option is part of the government's larger plan to ensure all British Columbians who want a family doctor will have access to one by 2015.

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid has announced $24 million more in funding to expand a pilot program provincewide which has already matched 9,000 patients with doctors over the past two years.

Some of that funding, which begins on April 1, will pay doctors $15 per patient phone call to a limit of 500 telephone consultations each year.

The plan will also encourage doctors with family practices to get together in their own communities to create new ways to ease their case loads, such as by using government funding to recruit new doctors or bring in more registered nurses.

Some 176,000 British Columbians don't have a family doctor.