British Columbia

Physicians bearing heavy workloads as B.C. battles family doctor shortage

B.C.'s supply of family doctors is not meeting demand as the population ages and general practitioners retire, says the former president of Doctors of BC.

Number of graduating physicians in the province not enough to meet growing demand

To keep up with demand, the former president of Doctors of B.C. says the province needs roughly 450 new graduates per year; B.C. currently graduates about 300. (iStock)

A family doctor shortage in the province has left many physicians feeling burnt-out.

An aging population, coupled with an exodus of family practitioners due to retirement, immigration and ill health, has led to heavier burdens for doctors, according to Bill Cavers, a family doctor in Victoria and former president of Doctors of BC.

"The amount of paperwork has gone up tremendously ... and that's frustrating because it detracts from the normal clinical flow," he told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's BC Almanac.

Cavers says British Columbians are aging overall, and that their care is becoming more intense — which has become quite taxing for physicians. 

"With these factors, we estimate we need about 450 new graduates per year to keep up with demand right now. And we're graduating about 300."

In 2013, the provincial government estimated 200,000 people in B.C. were without a family doctor. That same year, the province promised all residents access to a family doctor by 2015 with its $132-million GP for Me program.

But the program has fallen far behind its goals.

"It is quite serious, actually," said Cavers. "We know we've been falling behind in terms of total numbers for several years."

Rethinking treatment

Cavers says the demand extends well beyond general practitioners.

"We have a shortage of pharmacists, of nurses, of social workers — all of the health care professionals. We know that the demand in the population is climbing, so we need to look and reorganize the way we're delivering care."

Cavers says a realignment of how care is delivered might help offset the rising demand. For example, he says there are some things a physician doesn't need to do, like go over the list of medications — a task that he says could be handed off to a pharmacist, who might be better suited for the job.

Another major problem, he says, is that there is little co-ordination between health authorities and practitioners, meaning a patient's medical history isn't always accessible to a physician.

He says it would be greatly beneficial if the provincial government could, "produce a computerized system that allows doctors to share information, and not have to do the same work again, and again and again."

With files from CBC's BC Almanac

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Physicians bearing heavy workloads as B.C. battles family doctor shortage