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Doctors, patients rally in West Kelowna for increased access to family physicians

Click to play video: 'West Kelowna rally calls for changes to increase access to family physicians'
West Kelowna rally calls for changes to increase access to family physicians
Doctors and patients in the Okanagan marked Family Physician Day by highlighting the many British Columbians who are without a family doctor. Around 25 people gathered in West Kelowna for a rally to call for changes to keep doctors in family practice. – May 19, 2022

Doctors and patients in the Okanagan marked Family Physician Day by highlighting the many British Columbians who are without a family doctor.

Around 25 people gathered in West Kelowna, B.C., for a rally to call for changes to keep doctors in family practice.

“It is a struggle to find a family physician. We’ve had a few physicians in Kelowna retire in the last year or leave practice so that leaves about 8,000 to 15,000 … people with no GP in Kelowna,” said family physician Dr. Rehana Ahmed.

Doctors say B.C. already has an adequate number of family physicians, but many are choosing not to run a family practice.

“Right now we have about 6,800 family physicians and only about 3,200 are practicing family medicine,” said Dr. Toye Oyelese, president of BC Family Doctors.

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“Family medicine has become a lot more complex, there is a technological aspect, the level of care is much higher. It’s not like practicing in the ’60s and ’70s and yet the remuneration has not gotten much better and the cost of running a small business keeps escalating.”

The high overhead cost of running a clinic are one factor that are encouraging physicians to move away from family medicine.

“Twenty-five to 30 per cent of our salary goes to paying our overhead of our practice so it makes more sense to work in the hospital and not have to pay an overhead,” said Ahmed.

So physicians and their patients are calling for changes to bring family doctors back to family practice.

“All we would have to do is attract about 600 or 1,000 of those physicians back into the pool and we’ll be able to have family physicians for everybody,” Oyelese said.

Doctors have called for the province to switch from paying doctors per patient visit to paying physicians based on the length of time they spend caring for patients.

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“I think we want them to change the fee for service billing code and maybe allow us to have more time with our patients and compensate us for that. You might see less emergency visits and urgent care visits if we have more time to spend with our patients,” Ahmed said.

“Also we need to train more physicians.”

In the Legislature Thursday, B.C.’s Health Minister said health care is a priority and the provincial government will continue to work with physicians to make improvements.

“We need to continue to do that work, to build team-based care and to work to address the challenges of the primary care system,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix.

“We have the most fee-for-service system in Canada. It is about 80 per cent of our billings and about 65 per cent of our doctors get more than 80 per cent of their billings from fee-for-service. That presents very serious challenges in a time of increasing complexity and that is why we have to work with doctors on these issues and we are.”

Demonstrators in West Kelowna marched to MLA Ben Stewart’s office.

The opposition Liberal MLA put out a statement in support of the rally.

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“Family doctors are dealing with growing administrative burdens and increasing workloads and as a result, many are feeling forced to leave the profession,” said Stewart.

“It is essential that government listens to the voices of British Columbians today and immediately prioritizes investment in our family doctors so that they, in turn, can invest in the health of their patients.”

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