The provincial government and Doctors of BC is providing a $118 million in short-term funding to help provide stability to struggling family doctors.
Health Minister Adrian Dix and Doctors of BC president Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh revealed the “first step” supports in a press conference Wednesday.
The funds will be allocated to support family doctors and medical clinics with operational business costs. The program will begin on Oct. 1 and will only be available for four months, ending on Jan. 31, 2023.
The funding is part one of what the province is describing as a “transformational” multi-phased approach to “help protect and improve B.C.͛s health-care system.”
Dix said he will also announce a new compensation model for family doctors in the fall and hopes that will encourage more doctors to choose family practices.
“Ensuring British Columbians get the ongoing primary care they need means supporting B.C.͛s family doctors in the ways that help them provide the quality care patients rely on,” he said.
“Rising operational costs are affecting their ability to provide patient care, and we’ve been working closely with Doctors of BC to find solutions. This interim stabilization funding to family doctors is a key action in supporting their care to patients as we work to finalize a long-term solution this fall.”
Doctors of BC is an association of 14,000 physicians, residents and medical students in the province. Its representatives have been meeting with Dix for months to develop solutions to a number of challenges, including soaring overhead costs, stagnant wages and the fee-for-service model.
On Aug. 13, 16 physicians in Sechelt penned a letter to the provincial government stating that their business expenses have “exponentially increased” while their salaries have not, hampering their ability to pay their staff living wages, and putting patient care at risk.
“Our fee structure ignores increased patient volumes and complexities amidst a steadily growing population on the Sunshine Coast,” the letter said.
“We are contributing a substantial percentage of personal income to cover overhead costs and the continued increases are simply not sustainable.”
The new funding includes $75 million from the B.C. Ministry of Health and $43 million from the General Practices Services Committee, a collaborative committee co-chaired by the ministry and Doctors of BC that was established through the physician master agreement.
The funding is available to family doctors who provide ongoing services to patients and pay overhead costs. Primary care clinics, including walk-in clinics, committing to remaining open and maintaining consistent clinic hours can also apply for funding on behalf of the clinic and its doctors.
About 3,480 family doctors who have their own practices and 1,100 family doctors working in walk-in clinics are expected to receive funds, representing more than 70 per cent of family doctors working in B.C.
“This is an important first step to help doctors keep their practices open for patients over a four-month period until we have a longer-term solution to the very real problems in primary care,” said Dosanjh.
“There is still hard work ahead of us to achieve a new payment model that recognizes the pressures of rising business costs and that recognizes the value of family physicians and the time and complexity of providing longitudinal patient care. We want to ensure that everyone has a family doctor who can provide them with the quality care they need and deserve.”
In an internal memo to Doctors of BC members, Dosanjh said the funds will add up to $27,000 on average, per physician for the four-month period. Clinics could receive about $17,000 per physicians.
She said she expects a new payment model to be in place by the end of next January.
Dix has previously said the province needs to make simpler contract models that give doctors options to move between fee-for-service care models and public health care.
According to the health minister, since 2017, alternative payments to doctors whose services are not delivered through fee-for-service models have increased from $500 million to about $750 million — an increase of about 15 per cent every year for the past three years.
In the internal memo, Dosanjh said the payment model currently in the works would allow physicians to bill for the time in which they provide primary care services, recognizing the additional time they spend with more complex patients and on clinical administrative services.
Physicians would also be able to bill for each patient encounter, and each attached patient, recognizing their complexity, incentivizing physicians “with larger and more complex patient panels.”
Meanwhile, B.C. continues to work to attract new domestic and international physicians.
About 38,000 new staff have joined the province’s health care system, including 600 new doctors, in the past five years, Dix has said. The ministry put in 84 measures to increase surgeries during the pandemic, he added.
Nearly 1 million British Columbians don’t have a family doctor.