If it’s not housing or traffic, people in the city are talking about doctors–and the lack of them–in this growing town of ours. Finding a doctor is no easy task and takes some serious digging, begging and luck to find the right fit (or any fit). It seems that everyone is on the hunt for a family doctor. With many in the profession retiring and the population of New West booming, doctors are in hot demand, but the supply is lagging behind.
“250,000 people are currently seeking a family doctor in BC, but those are incomplete stats, as often people who are most in need are the people who do not identify as needing care, such as people with mental health issues or homeless people,” explains New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy.
My family of four has been without a steady doctor for over seven years. Throughout my two pregnancies I was under the care of a midwife. Six weeks postpartum, I was released from their care and left to bounce between walk-in-clinics and make calls to the nurses’ hotline.
I miss the stability and continuity of having a family doctor. The walk-in clinics have provided adequate care, but you are always feeling rushed and disconnected. Thankfully my family is free of any serious health concerns. I can’t imagine being forced into this kind of care while dealing with more severe health issues.
It is clear that the Liberal government’s campaign promise to provide a family doctor to those who want one is not being met. So, how do you find a doctor? And what is being done to address the critical shortage?
“At UBC we have increased the number of doctors we train to become family doctors by 50 per cent over the last five years,” explains Martin Dawes, Head of Department of Family Practice UBC.
UBC now takes in 170 students per year into their training program, which makes them the largest program in Canada.
“We have increased the undergraduate program as well so we now have more medical students (288 per year) entering our undergraduate program,” says Dawes.
Meeting individual health care needs in a growing population means shaking up how we traditionally view our visits with the family doctor.
Team-based care could be the model that changes how we visit the doctor. Team-based care involves groups of professionals from different disciplines who work and communicate together to care for a patient community within a primary care setting. Team members may include physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, mental health counsellors, psychiatrists, physiotherapists, midwives, and others.
Darcy sees health care teams as an essential part of a strong and sustainable primary health care system, though she admits that implementing a new care model would be very costly. Despite lots of up front costs, she believes the change would pay for itself in decreased health care costs in other ways and would be a good investment.
“The complexity of patients looked after in the community has risen,” she says.
“Family doctors now care for patients on multiple medications with many chronic diseases. It takes a lot of time to care for these people and teams are an effective way of doing this,” explains Dawes.
This is a big shift and will take time to change the system from solo practitioner to teams. Dawes stresses that everyone is striving hard to make the system work for the people of BC.
In the meantime, if you find yourself needing a new doctor in New West, be prepared. Your search will require some effort and patience. Thankfully, there are a few resources available to help with the process:
- Both The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia and the BC Doctor Directory are websites where the public can search for family physicians accepting new patients. Unfortunately these lists are not always up-to-date and the list of doctors accepting new patients is not perfect.
- Walk-in-clinics may be your best chance at pinning down a family doctor. Some walk-in clinics allow doctors to take on patients and book appointments. Check out the HealthLink BC site for a list of walk-in clinics near you.
- And most importantly, tell the world you are looking for a doctor. Use social media to share your search. More often than not, it is a reference from a friend that lands you on a patient list.