A Kelowna walk-in clinic owner says the rules constraining clinics need to be changed so they can deal with an increasing patient load.
As family doctors have become harder and harder to find, Mike McLoughlin, founding director of Walk-In Clinics of B.C., says clinics are forced to pick up the slack and he wants the provincial government to make changes to help them out.
"It used to be that walk-in clinics were after hours. They used to be for patients who had episodic type health care needs, so they would go to a walk-in clinic and be able to see someone on a timely basis," he told On The Coast guest host Jodie Martinson.
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"Now, with a physician shortage and a larger number of people who don't have a family doctor, there are people showing up at the walk-in clinic and they have complex care needs … the clinics are providing that care but are not being paid for it."
McLoughlin says one of the biggest issues walk-in clinics face is billing caps. A doctor is only allowed to bill the health care system for 50 patients per day at full price, then a further 15 patients at half-price, and can't bill for any more patients after those 65.
"The cap was originally set up to manage the cost of health care, but what it's basically doing now is capping access to primary care," he said. "I think it's one of the chief frustrations that physicians have."
McLoughlin says a weekly or monthly cap would give clinics more flexibility.
McLoughlin also wants to see more flexibility for retiring doctors to keep working part-time and also: expanded roles for nurse practitioners to handle less-complicated cases.
Minister: more doctors now than ever before
In response, Health Minister Terry Lake told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko that physician numbers aren't the problem. "We have more physicians in the province of British Columbia now that at any other time in our history," he said.
Instead, he says the problem may be that new physicians are looking to join teams of doctors instead of working in clinics. They don't work as many hours, and more female doctors mean they take more time away from their careers for family reasons.
He says the province is working on a new model that involves a "primary care team" including more than just doctors, because, "every problem isn't necessarily one that needs a physician, but needs a continuity of care."
Lake said more resources will be devoted to the new model and ensuring continuity of care. He said changing the patient cap would be a bad idea.
To hear the interview with Mike McLoughlin, click the audio labelled: Clinic owner says province needs to change laws on walk-in clinics
To hear the interview with Terry Lake, click the audio labelled: Terry Lake discusses walk-in clinic problems