Frustration is mounting for people in British Columbia searching for a family doctor as the province struggles to fill empty spots. There are 656 positions available for physicians on the Health Match B.C. website, 443 of those are for general practitioners.
"We have an aging population that results in more complex patients, an aging physician workforce, and new physicians practicing differently – taking longer to move into permanent practices and looking at better work-life balance by working fewer hours than doctors have in years past," said Health Minister Terry Lake in a statement.
The province committed to a 'GP for Me' program with the goal of ensuring everyone in the province had a family doctor by the end of 2015, but announced before the end of the year it was a commitment that couldn't be met. The Canadian Community Health Survey notes that in 2014, the proportion of British Columbians without a regular family doctor was about the same as the Canadian average — about 15 per cent.
But the province's explanation is not good enough for Theresa Hendriks, a Coquitlam resident who has had three family doctors in the last 13 years. She is not optimistic she will find a new family doctor and is worried about going to a walk in clinic as an alternative.
"It really scares me because I am on the search for a fourth family doctor and I don't know if I will find one. I just think, i will go to a walk in clinic and try to explain my history to this doctor who knows nothing about me and has no access to any records or blood tests and I am supposed to rely on my own memory. Beyond frustration it really scares me."
The greatest frustration for Hendriks is in all three cases she was not notified by her doctor that they were going to retiring or leaving the practice.
"I was just filling out a prescription at the drug store and they told me they couldn't fill the prescription because my doctor was no longer practicing. That surprised me, so I called my doctor's office and got a voicemail and said yes that was the case." added Hendriks.
Doctors of B.C. are working closely with the province to recruit new physicians to the province and line up lifestyle choices with potential work opportunities. The province has also invested more heavily in nurse practitioners, dieticians and nurses to work with doctors to ease the strain on them and to create a network of care for patients.
"We need to get a handle in this province on where the doctors are needed, what communities, where are the under- serviced metropolitan, urban and rural areas and this is simply not a conversation about GPs, there are a lot of specialist needs as well," said Doctors of B.C. president Alan Ruddiman.