December 12, 2017 1:28 pm

B.C. doctor shortage about to get worse as more physicians reach retirement age

If you think it's not easy to find a family doctor now, a new report says the shortage of both general practitioners and specialists is about to grow even worse. Aaron McArthur reports.

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It is a constant refrain across B.C.’s health care system: too many people end up in an emergency room or a walk-in clinic because they don’t have family doctors.

About 15 per cent of British Columbians don’t have access to a regular family physician and a new report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests the problem will only get worse as a wave of physicians near retirement age.

“About 40 per cent of physicians are over age 55 so we are looking at quite a large number that could be retiring in the next few years based on the study that we did,” Lindsay Hedden of UBC’s School of Population and Public Health said.

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According to billing data, the average doctor in B.C. retires at the age of 65, rural doctors retire two years earlier than that at the age of 63 and female physicians retire at 61.

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Doctors of B.C., — an organization that represents the province’s physicians, medical residents and medical students — say the workload in the province’s interior plays a major role.

“As a rural doctor I can tell you that the thing that tires you out is the fact that we mostly work in the hospitals too and we do night-call,” Trina Larsen-Soles of Doctors of BC said.

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Both Doctors of B.C. and researchers agree that more needs to be done to enhance patient care. One idea that continues to be talked about is a move away from the traditional fee-for-service model.

“They go to medical school and they’re taught team-based care models, and then when they finish medical school, the system isn’t set up to support that,” Hedden said. “So I think that, rather than focusing on things like fee adjustments, what we need to do is start looking at more structural change to better support physicians who want to enter practice in an alternative model.”

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