More people have access to a family doctor: Doctors of BC

After a few years of instability that showed the cracks in B.C.’s health-care system, one group says things are getting better, albeit slowly.

Doctors of BC says the number we’ve heard for so long — that 1 million British Columbians don’t have access to a family doctor — is no longer accurate.

“That number is probably now in the mid to high 700,000 number, because we’ve been able to attract more family physicians to British Columbia,” said Dr. Ahmer Karimuddin, president of Doctors of BC.

“There is optimism in the system that things are getting better and with the success of longitudinal family practice model, things are getting better.”

He admits it’s an improvement, but it’s not perfect and things won’t get better overnight.

“I think there’s still a lot of work to be done. If I told you there are more than 700,000 British Columbians without access to family practice care, that is a huge number of people.

“Yet, for the first time, there is optimism amongst family practice doctors and we’re on the right track.”

Karimuddin says the doctors he’s speaking to say, “Their mood is brighter, their outlook is more positive, and their practice is more stable.”

He credits this to B.C.’s family doctor payment model that launched in 2023. Earlier in February, Health Minister Adrian Dix said more than 4,000 physicians had signed up for that model and as of December 2023, there were about 5,000 doctors “working in longitudinal primary care.”

That longitudinal care model compensates family doctors for their time when it comes to dealing with complicated forms and administrative work, in addition to time spent with patients and complex patient care.

Dix also said B.C. has the highest number of family physicians per capita nationwide.

Despite improvements in this area of the health-care system, Karimuddin admits many other areas continue to struggle.

“There’s still much work that needs to be done for things like emergency rooms, for specialist wait times, wait times for imaging, but that’s where the complexity of the health-care system comes into play. Where we make progress on one problem, and then we’ve got to work on others as well.”

He says this year’s goal is to keep talks open with the provincial government.

“We’re not going to get to perfection tomorrow. It’s going to be a process. It took decades and years of challenges to the health-care system for us to get here and we’re not going to be able to turn this around overnight, yet it’s through conversations and working together that we’re going to find a better path.”

Doctors of BC maintains the overall goal is for everyone who wants a family doctor should be able to have one, but it’s not providing a timeline for when that promise may become a reality.

“There is hope and optimism in the future, it’s just going to take some time.”

The health-care system was addressed in Thursday’s provincial budget. The government outlined a plan to address the demand in cancer care, expanding access to mental health and addictions facilities, and offering $20,000 to cover a round of IVF starting in April 2025.

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