KELOWNA - With the steady decline of walk-in clinics in the B.C. interior, the big question on everyone’s mind, is why.
Two walk-in clinics in Kelowna have closed in the past six months, leaving just five clinics in the city. Rutland Walk-in Clinic closed in August, 2016, and Glenvalley Medical Centre in Glenmore closed its doors to walk-in patients at the beginning of 2017.
“There aren't enough family physicians,” director of Walk-In Clinics of B.C. Mike McLoughlin says. “(In Kelowna) we have one of the fastest growing communities in B.C., we should be adding to our physician number and instead, we’re plateauing.”
According to McLoughlin, Kelowna is short about 35 family doctors. He says the medical school system is partly to blame.
“In the mid-90s there was a decision to cut medical school enrollment, so for about 10 years they weren’t graduating enough general practitioners. Now as we have doctors retiring, we don’t have the numbers we need to take their place.”
Additionally, the way the current school system works, a medical student will complete four years of medical school and then have to apply to a specialization. Those wanting to become general practitioner, or GP, also have to apply. Considering students have to go through an application process either way, and spend similar time in school regardless, most do not choose to apply to a GP program as their first or second choice.
According to the Canadian Medical Association, an anesthesiologist will earn on average about $361,000 per year. On average, a family doctor will make on average, approximately $270,000 per year.
“B.C. is certainly on the lower scale of paying family doctors,” says McLoughlin. “We need to give students hope that they will be well compensated for the value they add to society.”
The government introduced salary cap doesn’t help the situation either.
After 50 patients, the walk-in clinic and physician only get paid 50 per cent of the total billing. After 65 patients, they don’t get paid at all.
“Many walk-in clinics can’t find doctors to work the shift, and then can’t afford to subsidize them.”
McLoughlin owns Medi-Kel family practice in Kelowna.
He says one out of two people that come into the clinic already have a family doctor.
“It may be a longer wait, and less convenient, but patients with family doctors should use them, and leave the walk-in clinics to people who don’t.”
However, a solution may be on the horizon.
“A new, multi-dynamic initiative will be coming out this year to get more patients attached to a family physician,” executive director for Central Okanagan Division of Family Practice Tristan Smith says.
Kelowna will be one of the first cities in the province to implement these programs, according to Smith.
The Ministry of Health will be launching a patient medical home, and primary care home strategy to increase capacity.
The programs will be replacing the previous initiative, A GP For Me. The previous program focused on linking elderly patients with family physicians. According to Smith, funding for the program stopped last year.
In the meantime, Smith says people need to re-evaluate when to see a doctor.
“As a community, we need to have the conversation about when we need to go to a physician,” he says. “While some people need to visit their doctor earlier, some people could probably wait."
"Everyone needs to be working with their primary care physicians to determine when to see them and when not to."
However, according to Health Canada, there are preventative measures one can take to limit time spent in the doctor's office. These include frequently washing hands, staying active, and maintaining a healthy diet.
If you do need to go to a walk-in clinic, there’s a website that can help save your time.
Medimap.ca allows you to type in your location, and it will show on a map the walk-in clinics closest to you and their average wait time.
— This story was updated at 4:45 p.m., Wednesday, June 18th to correct the amount of general practitioners in the Kelowna area.
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