VERNON - Dwindling access to walk-in clinics in Vernon will lead to longer line-ups, and more people travelling outside their communities to see a doctor, says a Kelowna advocate for walk-ins.
While the community is still absorbing the impending closure of the Vernon Family Doctor’s Walk-In Clinic, another blow came this week with news that Gartree Medical Clinic is cutting back its hours to 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., from a previous 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.
“I wasn’t surprised at all, because we’re all hurting for doctors,” Mike McLoughlin, founding director of Walk-In Clinics of B.C. says.
McLoughlin owns a clinic in Kelowna, and expects the situation in Vernon will have a ripple effect through the Okanagan.
“When a clinic closed in Kamloops, people ended up coming to Vernon, so reducing hours in Vernon is then going to put pressure on clinics in Kelowna,” he says.
Once the Vernon Family Doctor’s Clinic closes in March, there will only be two walk-in clinics left: Gartree Medical Clinic and the North Okanagan Medical Clinic at the Superstore. A new clinic is rumoured to be opening in Vernon to fill the gap, however details are not yet known. There are currently four walk-in clinics in Kamloops and six in Kelowna, but McLoughlin fears that could change.
“It’s when the leases are up for renewal, that’s when the shareholders and owner doctors decide whether to continue the clinic. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other clinics that are going to be closing,” McLoughlin says.
Gartree Medical Clinic has not yet provided an interview to iNFOnews.ca., however one of the doctors told the another media outlet the reduction in hours isn’t due to a doctor shortage, but the fact that physicians are not willing to work at walk-in clinics.
McLoughlin agrees it can be difficult recruiting doctors for walk-in clinics for a couple reasons. Unlike family doctors, walk-in physicians can’t bill for incentive payments that come alongside more complex cases.
“If you’re in a family practice and have a complex case, you can bill additional money for looking after that case,” McLoughlin says. “In the walk-in environment, because the patient isn’t on your roster as a patient of yours, you can’t bill those additional incentives. You have to do the same work, spend the same time, but you can’t bill that.”
The government has capped daily billings for physicians at 50 patients per doctor, which presents yet another challenge, McLoughlin says. After 50 patients, payment is reduced, and after 65 patients ‘you don’t get anything.’ That’s why if you’re not one of the first 50 people to request an appointment at a walk-in clinic, you’ll probably be turned away.
While some walk-in doctors are full time, many are physicians with their own practice who pull extra shifts at walk-ins to earn more money, or to provide after hours care to their regular patients, McLoughlin says.
“That is becoming less of a thing to do, because they want to have a life, work 9 a.m. to 5p.m., Monday to Friday. They don’t want to work evenings or on weekends, they don’t want to do after hours care. They basically want a better life.”
In September, McLoughlin presented three recommendations to improve medical care in B.C. by supporting walk-in clinics to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services in Victoria. The recommendations include: providing flexibility in the cap on daily billings, allowing older doctors to work longer and providing more nurse practitioners at walk-in clinics.
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— This story was edited at 2:53 p.m. Jan. 12, 2016, to correct that Mike McLoughlin owns a walk-in clinic in Kelowna but is not a physician.