New AMA president says Alberta needs more physicians in rural areas

A file photo of Neil Cooper.
A file photo of Neil Cooper. CREDIT:

The new president of the Alberta Medical Association is a football-loving pediatrician and sports medicine doctor who says the province needs to recruit more physicians to work in rural areas and a new health information system to help caregivers treat their patients.

Dr. Neil Cooper said these are some of the biggest challenges the province must tackle to improve the health-care system. But he said the association and the NDP government are working more closely together than they did under the Tories.

“What we didn’t have in the past and what we have now is a way better relationship with the government. We are all talking the same language and we are meeting together regularly,” Cooper said Monday from his Calgary practice.

“We are going to get a whole lot more done.”

Cooper said a committee is already working on how to ensure that rural and remote areas of the province have enough physicians.

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Alberta Health says the number of physicians dramatically outpaced the province’s population growth in recent years. At the same time, the number of doctors practising outside of cities decreased.

READ MORE: Alberta returns to decentralized health care

Cooper said the committee, which includes physicians, is working to nail down details of the shortage and come up with ways to recruit doctors to serve rural areas.

“You send a doctor to a small town and they are the only one there, they don’t last very long because it is so hard,” he said.

“We have to come up with a way to support people going into smaller places.”

Cooper said the key to a more efficient health system is better information. Caregivers need to be able to quickly access a patient’s complete medical history.

He said the government is looking at proposals for a “patient portal” system with input from physicians. He said ideally it would allow patients to view their own medical files on their home computers.

“Even when they are sitting at the kitchen table talking with their family, they should be able to have access to their information.”

Cooper, who is also a consulting pediatrician at the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, said he has big concerns about medical marijuana and the federal government’s plan to legalize the recreational use of pot.

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He said the AMA shares the Canadian Medical Association’s position that marijuana should not be sold to people under 21 and that there should be restrictions on the quantity and strength of pot that people under 25 can buy.

READ MORE: Medical journal condemns Liberals’ marijuana legalization bill

Studies show marijuana is harmful to young people’s brains, which are still developing, he said.

His only advice to the Alberta government is to go slow as it works out how to deal with legal pot.

“I wish the federal government had not gone down this road.”