Alberta's new pay deal with doctors 'could be revolutionary,' health expert says

Changes to the compensation model for doctors included in the new deal reached between the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) and the province could be revolutionary, according to a health care policy expert.

Some primary care physicians to be paid for quality of care instead of fee for service

A new deal between the province and the AMA that alters how doctors get paid could result in better care, a U of A expert says. (iStock)

Changes to the compensation model for doctors included in the new deal reached between the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) and the province could be revolutionary, according to a health care policy expert.

Alberta doctors voted 74 per cent in favour of a set of amendments to the existing 2011-18 master agreement that will change elements of patient care and how doctors are paid.

The new deal will introduce a compensation model for some primary-care doctors aimed at rewarding time and quality of care given to patients rather than just the number of services provided, the province says.

University of Alberta associate professor John Church, who studies health care policy, says the agreement could be a signal that doctors have come to believe that fee for service is no longer the best model — something many government officials have been arguing since the 1980s.

"I think the potential here for better care for the public is very great, but it is potential, right? The devil is in the details, so we're going to have to wait and see how it rolls out," he said.

Church says the new willingness among Alberta physicians to step away from fee for service could be a reflection of a generational shift.

"Moving to a different compensation model may actually fit with the expectations of a younger generation of health providers," he said.

Having doctors spend potentially much longer visiting with patients will only result in better care and cost-efficiency if physicians work more effectively with other care providers in a team setting, Church says.

"There's going to have to be a sort of triage process."

The province and the doctors also agreed to a new physician resource plan that will help get doctors to communities where they're most needed.

The deal also calls for certain benefits to be linked to performance on cost-saving measures.