Calgary

'It's going to be a disaster': Doctors speak out against proposed funding changes

With a deadline looming, Alberta doctors are speaking out against so-called "ten-minute medicine" — what they say will become the norm in the province if changes proposed by the government proceed.

Alberta Medical Association says it has received thousands of calls and emails from doctors

Dr. Fozia Alvi, head of the Airdrie Community Physicians' Association, said many of her colleagues were having sleepless nights as a result of changes proposed by the Alberta government. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

With a deadline looming, Alberta doctors are speaking out against so-called "ten-minute medicine" — what they say will become the norm in the province if changes proposed by the government proceed.

"It's going to be a disaster," said Dr. Fozia Alvi, who works in Airdrie. "I'm worried about my complex patients — like patients with cancer and diabetes, high blood pressure, pain issues — that we won't be able to spend time with them."

Depending on where practices are located, changes could lead to a 20 to 40 per cent cut in gross earnings for doctors before they pay overhead costs, according to Christine Molnar, Alberta Medical Association president.

"Some [doctors] were saying that they just didn't think they could keep their offices open, that they'd maybe go bankrupt as small businesses," she said. "Some of them were talking about retiring early, and some of them were talking about leaving Alberta."

Steve Buick, a spokesperson for Health Minister Tyler Shandro, wrote in a statement the Alberta government is "not cutting spending on physicians."

"We'll spend $5.4 billion on physicians this year, an $80-million increase from last year's budget and nearly one quarter of the entire health care budget," he wrote.

However, the proposals would increase time modifiers for appointments from 15 to 25 minutes — meaning doctors would need to spend much longer with each patient in order to receive the same compensation.

That has led some doctors to express concern that appointments across the province would be cut to 10 minutes in order to maximize or maintain revenue.

Clinic costs

Part of the challenge, according to Calgary rheumatologist Michelle Jung, are the costs associated with running clinics. 

Jung said most primary care physicians provide the infrastructure needed to provide care, including equipment and support staff. She said even with current complex modifier rates, many family physicians take 30 or 40 minutes with patients.

"These community clinics may actually start to close," Jung said. "I think there's a legitimate concern that patients' appointments may get shortened. And it's not because physicians are greedy, but running a clinic is also a business. You need to make a certain amount of income to be able to have the capacity to run a business."

With the names of 365 of her Alberta colleagues added, Jung submitted a letter of concern to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Shandro and a number of MLAs.

"With the proposed changes regarding complex modifiers, you are unintentionally penalizing the physicians who do honest work and strive to provide quality care to all patients, especially those with chronic complex medical problems," the letter reads.

Another Calgary doctor, Dr. Matt Henschke, drafted a letter he plans to hand out to patients at Britannia Medical Clinic in southwest Calgary.

At Prime Health Care Medical Clinic on 16th Avenue, another letter was circulated to patients. According to that handout, the "most troubling effects" the proposed changes could lead to are:

  • Increased wait times for appointments.
  • Less time spent with physicians during an appointment.
  • A decreased focus on preventative care.
  • Increased costs for seniors due to government no longer funding mandatory senior drivers' medicals.

The AMA plans to submit its feedback prior to the Dec. 20 deadline but Molnar said because the province presented the changes outside of the negotiation process, it can "unilaterally impose them."

"We've made some proposals to control costs as we begin negotiations for a new agreement with the AMA. If they have other proposals, we're open to them," Buick wrote.

With files from Jennifer Lee

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.