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Alberta doctor calls out provincial funding program, saying it excludes rural physicians

By Dione Wearmouth

It’s no secret that Alberta doctors continue to struggle with soaring patient numbers and timely administrative work, but one physician is speaking out against a provincial initiative aimed at addressing the issue.

Dr. Stephanie Frigon is a physician in Westlock, Alberta and says many rural doctors like herself are being left in the dark due to the province’s Panel Management Support System (PMPS) being prorated and based on the total number of patients they support.

The program introduced in October aims to provide doctors with cash for resources, such as staff and technology, to reduce their amount of time spent on administrative tasks, according to the Alberta Medical Association (AMA). It allows doctors with 500 or more patients to receive up to $10,000 a year.

Frigon says she technically has 478 patients, despite the clinic she works at caring for nearly 600, and argues the PMPS patient threshold is far too high, and will actually do the opposite of what it aims to do.

“I think it’s disincentivizing people from continuing to do this work,” she says. “Because it’s one more thing that they didn’t qualify for and the grass looks greener on the other side.”

She says she’s heard of some physicians who split their care between both urban and rural communities, and even though they have massive workloads, they can’t benefit from the program since they don’t technically have a panel size of 500 or more.

“We’ve got a new physician in our clinic who started last fall, and he’s gradually been building up his patient panel,” says Frigon. “He works every single day. He only has 350 patients.”

She is calling on the province to expand the program and reduce the patient threshold in order to support the doctors who are working just as hard, despite having a smaller panel size.

AMA president Dr. Paul Parks agrees, saying the province needs to reduce the requirement, especially as burnout continues to push many doctors to the brink of quitting.

“This was a government program that they implemented and didn’t really take our input on it,” says Parks. “It is an arbitrary cutoff and leaves out a considerable number of doctors that probably should qualify for it.”

CityNews has reached out to the Ministry of Health for comment.

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