KAMLOOPS - With up to 30,000 Kamloops residents not having a general practitioner, a strain is being put on the four walk-in clinics operating in the city.
Founding director of the Walk-In Clinics of B.C. Association Mike McLoughlin says with the growing importance of walk-in clinics in the community, a major gap is being filled in the city's health care system.
Although there are clinics in the city which can see up to 30 people waiting in line some mornings, McLoughlin says Kamloops would be in much worse shape if the clinics weren't there.
"It may be difficult, it may be problematic to get in them, but boy, if you didn’t have the walk-in clinics we would be in a lot more serious trouble," he says.
McLoughlin says the latest numbers from 2015 show 262 family doctors practicing in the Thompson-Cariboo, that number barely changing from years prior, while the family doctor rater per 100,000 people in the region has been marginally increasing.
"It hasn’t gone up and it hasn’t gone down, but you guys are experiencing growth just like we are in the Okanagan," he says. "Why is it that it appears like the physician resource is growing, but people can’t get in to see a family doctor?"
There are a few reasons why Kamloops is experiencing a doctor shortage and McLoughlin says it may have something to do with general practitioners being recruited to work as hospitalists, dedicated in-patient physicians who work exclusively in hospitals.
"When the hospitalist position is created at the hospital... they basically look at what a doctor bills in a private or a family practice," McLoughlin says. "Say they bill $350,000 in a family practice. They will offer this doctor $350,000 to be a hospitalist."
The hypothetical salary goes much further for a hospitalist, McLoughlin says, because a doctor running a family practice has a higher overhead. After taxes, a hospitalist can walk away with much more money than if they had to give up 40 per cent of it to cover practice costs.
"You get a pension, there’s all sorts of... benefits that you get from being at the hospital," he says. "Whereas at the clinic, they have to go and find their own benefits plan, they’ve got to pay into it."
Kamloops Mayor Peter Milobar, and B.C. Liberal Party candidate for Kamloops-North Thompson says this isn't the only issue contributing to the shortage.
"There’s lots to this and I think it’s disingenuous for anyone to suggest that there’s this one missing piece and if only we... or the government, or IHA or anyone had just done this one thing, we would magically have all these doctors here and everything would be OK," Milobar says.
He says the city's recruitment initiatives to have six medical school graduates stay in Kamloops after graduation will take off some of the pressure, along with the two new health care centres planned for the North Shore.
"It’s certainly not something that can easily be solved," Milobar says. "We’ve made a concerted effort with medical students to try and create an environment of welcoming them to the community in the two years they’re here."
But another issue affecting doctor's offices is the aging demographic of general practitioners. Doctors are retiring out faster than they can be replaced, Milobar says.
"We actually do attract a fair amount of doctors on a yearly basis in Kamloops," Milobar says. "It’s that we’ve seen other doctors retire out as we see the demographic of the doctor cohort in Kamloops start to age."
Both McLoughlin and Milobar agree everyone involved in the health care system is doing what they can to address this shortage, but it's not something that will be solved in the short-term.
McLoughlin says it's important for patients who do have a family doctor to utilize them, instead of joining the line at walk-in clinics.
"It’s probably inconvenient and it’ll probably take you longer to get in and see your family doctor, but hey, go see your family doctor," he says. "Get regular with your family doctor. Leave the walk-in clinics to the people who don’t have family doctors."
McLoughlin says the new health care centres proposed for the city are a response to the fact that Kamloops is further down the doctor shortage path than other cities, but places like Kelowna and Vernon aren't far behind.
"I’m not sure (the new clinics are) going to solve the 30 people on the clipboard problem at the other walk-in clinics, but it could actually take some pressure off," McLoughlin says. "The complex care patients will end up at the primary care centre instead of being at the walk-in clinic so that might help a bit."
A representative for the Ministry of Health says renovations are underway at the Tranquille Way primary care clinic. The first floor is expected to open on March 2 and will see primary care providers taking on patients without a family doctor.
The second floor is set to open on Feb. 6, and will treat patients with complex conditions.
Read the latest on the family doctor shortage here.
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