The province and the B.C. Medical Association are promising a family doctor for every B.C. resident who wants one, a goal they say can be achieved within two years.
That might be good news for the 176,000 British Columbians who don’t have a family physician, yet a Kamloops family doctor said it would be impossible to achieve in this city.
Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid announced on Friday $132 million more in funding to expand A GP for Me, a pilot program provincewide that 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 caseloads, such as by using government funding to recruit new doctors or bring in more registered nurses.
“This new program will make it easier for physicians to provide high-quality care to their patients, and in many cases ease their workload so that they can accept more patients into their practices,” MacDiarmid said in a news release.
The innovative approach has been tested in Cowichan Valley, Prince George and White Rock.
Dr. Rob Baker, a family physician who has practised for 33 years in Kamloops, said there are simply too few doctors to go around.
“I’m afraid we’ve heard this before in this province,” Baker said. “It can’t happen. It’s impossible.”
He said advice given over the phone is a risky practice at best and he doesn’t believe GPs can take on more patients.
“I can’t speak for other communities, but physicians in Kamloops are going as hard as we can and we’re already seeing more patients than we want to,” he said.
Other features of the new program include:
* Incentives for physicians to take on more patients with complex conditions such as cancer.
* Funding in support of local physician groups to work collaboratively with health authorities to support better local access to primary care.
A separate and complementary program is intended to support hospitalized patients in receiving care from family doctors.
MLA Terry Lake said the goal to ensure all citizens have a family doctor was promised by former finance minister Kevin Falcon a few years ago.
“It’s a challenge. We’re training way more doctors, but I know in Kamloops that it’s still an issue,” he said. The addition of nurse practitioners should also help to alleviate the shortage, he said.
He said 38 new doctors arrived in Kamloops last year, eight of whom are general practitioners. Other initiatives — Interior Health Authority is rolling out its red-carpet service again to attract and retain MDs — should also improve access.
But Baker questioned the number of new GPs cited. He said he’s aware of only one additional doctor other than those who have replaced retiring physicians. A lot of physicians listed as family doctors are “hospitalists” who have no effect on the community, he said.
Part of the issue is financial. When Baker started in 1980, he could earn a living seeing four patients an hour. Now he has to see seven an hour. That’s not good for the quality of care and it’s not the pace doctors want to maintain, he said.
While more doctors are in training, many in the field may have only a few years until retirement.
“I’m afraid, from a Kamloops perspective, this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.”