Comprehensive care model needed to keep doctors in Alberta, medical association says

By CityNews Staff

Alberta is facing a shortage of family doctors, forcing more patients to seek primary care in already over-crowded hospitals.

But, the province’s doctors believe they could have the solution.

‘One doctor, one story’ is a new social media campaign by the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) urging the province to immediately implement a new care strategy.

The AMA is proposing a new physician comprehensive care model, saying other provinces like B.C., Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, are paying their doctors at least $100,000 more per year not to go into their own pockets to help run their small businesses.

AMA president Paul Parks says the model would get more Albertans attached to family doctors in rural communities, and expand team-based care.

Parks says the group met with the health minister and they hope to get — in writing — more funding for family physicians.

“It has been a collaborative process but again, I want to stress that it’s really critical that we get the panel numbers right, that we don’t make it a really high number so that a whole bunch of family physicians get cut out,” he said.

On average, 40 per cent of a doctor’s billings go directly to covering expenses like rent, staff, and equipment, and they make at least $100,000 less than doctors in Manitoba, B.C., and Saskatchewan, according to the AMA.

A recent survey found 61 per cent of family doctors are leaving the Alberta healthcare system, due to disparities in pay, and over 90 per cent of family doctors are concerned about the financial viability of their practices.

Edmonton-based doctor Kate Faulder says due to high overhead costs, her office can’t afford support staff.

“I spend at least one-and-a-half to two hours per clinic day on managing referrals, filling out forms, and completing other paperwork — much of which is unpaid — when I could be seeing patients instead,” she explained.

While her practice is full, Faulder adds she’s asked around five times per day to take on new patients by their desperate family members such as new moms and those suffering from chronic illness.

Parks says the new model will compensate for time spent on patient-related care.

“Decreasing administrative burden and offloading things that we can, that doesn’t need to be done by the physician is one thing, but the second is we need to compensate them for the hours of time it takes for them to do this,” he said.

He adds a study done in Atlantic Canada finds paperwork takes up around 100,000 family medicine visits a year.

Parks says if they could offload and compensate physicians for that work, they could get more Albertans attached to medical homes.

Dr. Mary Chisolm works in Edmonton as an anaestheologist and family doctor, she says she is seeing more patients in the operating room with major medical illnesses that haven’t see a doctor in more than a year.

“We’re talking about diabetics who haven’t had anybody following them or people with heart disease, or people with rheumatoid arthritis — people with major issues that haven’t had the proper care,” she explained.

Parks says Alberta is at a disadvantage as the current model provides support for more doctors earning less than $500,000 a year, and makes Alberta more competitive.

Dr. Richard Chan practices in downtown Calgary, and previously cared for 1,000 patients in Edmonton until he left in 2022.

He says despite giving 18-months notice, they were unable to secure a new family doctor for those patients.

“Following that, we tried to find other homes for my patients and other clinics, from physicians that might be taking patients and we sadly found out there was only about five physicians in the entire Edmonton area accepting patients at that time,” Chan said.

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