Finding a family doctor surprisingly easy for Calgary patients as physician ranks swell

Calgary patients who recently found a new family doctor say they were pleasantly surprised by how painless the process has become.

Alberta has nearly 1,000 more family doctors than 5 years ago, 57% of them in Calgary: CIHI data

Dr. Muhammad Shahbaz at Calgary's Northmount Medical Centre says it's not hard to find a family doctor in the city these days. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Calgary patients who recently found a new family doctor say they were pleasantly surprised by how painless the process has become.

"It was a lot easier than I anticipated and I found someone a lot faster than I thought I would," said Kelsey Hipkin, who went looking for a new physician late last winter.

"I basically just went online, Googled 'family doctors Calgary' and a couple names came up, and then the first phone call I made, I made a connection, and that's who I wound up with."

That kind of patient experience has become increasingly common in Calgary, where the number of working family physicians has grown faster than anywhere else in the province.

According to data released this week by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), Alberta's ranks of family doctors have grown by 993 in the past five years — 562 of those in the Calgary health zone.

Alberta, as a whole, now has 123 family physicians per 100,000 people, while Calgary has 141.

The national average is 115.

Dr. Phillip van der Merwe, a physician lead with Alberta's Primary Care Networks (PCNs), said there's a persistent myth that it's hard to find a family doctor in Canada but that's simply no longer the case — at least not in Alberta, and especially not in Calgary.

Of roughly 1,400 family doctors working within Calgary PCNs, van der Merwe said 373 were accepting new patients as of this week.

That's up more than 60 per cent from a year earlier.

(Mike Spenrath/CBC)

At the city's Northmount Medical Centre, Dr. Muhammad Shahbaz said he isn't advertising for new patients but is still accepting them as referrals, but a new physician who recently joined the clinic is actively seeking new people to treat.

Still, Shahbaz said small talk with patients often turns to a perceived shortage of family doctors.

"They still tell us it's very hard to find a doctor, but they're probably not actively looking or they're not aware that there are so many physicians taking new patients now," he said.

Jordan Paul used to go to walk-in clinics for any medical needs but, entering his late 20s, recently decided it was time to find a family doctor.

Given what he had heard about the process, Paul was bracing for a long search, but said it actually turned out to be "super-easy."

"Well, it took some time to go through all the doctors available," he said.

"It was a surprising amount, I'd say, from what I used to hear about it being hard to find good doctors."

63,000 patients registered online

To find their family doctors, both Paul and Hipkin used the Calgary and Area Find a Doctor website, which is run by the province's PCNs.

The site, which averages about 9,000 hits per month, allows users to browse for nearby clinics that are accepting new patients or register their information and have a family physician contact them.

Between 2010 and 2015, more than 63,000 Calgarians registered to find a doctor through the site, van der Merwe said.

Numerous studies have found benefits to the overall health system, he added, when more people are connected with family physicians.

"Patients who are actually hooked up with a regular family doctor receive better care and have better outcomes, long-term," he said.


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