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No easy solution to doctor shortage in the South Okanagan

South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice Project Manager Aarin Frigon spoke to the regional district board about doctor recruitment issues on Thursday, June 15, 2017.
June 16, 2017 - 6:30 PM

PENTICTON - A walk-in clinic wouldn’t help alleviate emergency medical treatment in Oliver or Osoyoos, regional board directors were told yesterday.

South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice project manager Aarin Frigon said because emergency ward doctors at South Okanagan General Hospital Oliver are paid through fees for service, a walk-in clinic in the town would likely diminish the need for residents to get treatment at the hospital, further reducing a doctor’s incentive in a situation where emergency ward staffing is already an issue.

Frigon was at the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen’s hospital board meeting yesterday, June 15, to speak to directors about doctor recruitment in the South Okanagan and Similkameen.

She said doctor shortages were a world wide issue and weren’t exclusive to the South Okanagan and Simlkameen. She said the province wasn’t graduating enough doctors to keep up with the region’s aging population, who require more doctor time.

“Doctors today want a life, and are looking for a work-life balance,” she said.

Frigon said because of changing requirements for doctor’s specializations, Princeton, Osoyoos and Oliver residents now go to Penticton Regional Hospital for maternity care, because not enough babies are being born in the smaller communities for a physician to maintain his credentials.

Past efforts at recruiting doctors from South Africa proved successful until that country changed requirements, making it more difficult to recruit from there, Frigon said.

Area D director Tom Siddon voiced concerns about the quality of South African doctors, noting the province in the past had protectionist attitudes toward doctor staffing.

Frigon couldn’t speak to present provincial attitudes, but said even Canadian-educated physicians had quality issues.

“Incoming doctors are evaluated for proper training. When there’s a doctor shortage, you tend not to be as picky about such things as bedside manner. What we’re looking for when they come through is, do they have the proper training to practice here?” Frigon said. “We need to streamline the process to make it easier for them to practise here."

Rule changes to the way doctors treat patients in walk-in clinics has resulted in some grey areas, with respect to that type of doctor care, she said.

“If a doctor sees a patient three times, that person becomes the doctor’s patient. With that, the doctor is in charge of their records for up to 30 years. That’s why walk-in clinics in Kelowna have been closing,” she said.

Frigon said communities can help attract doctors by partnering in recruitment, offering incentives and tours of the area.

West Bench director Michael Brydon asked if there were any restrictions on what kind of incentives could be offered to doctors.

“Technically, no,” Frigon said, adding other communities have offered to pay student loans and even built clinics to attract doctors.

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