Quebec family doctors won't have to meet patient quotas

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette will drop the idea of imposing a patient quota, but doctors will have to find a way to make sure 85 per cent of Quebecers have a family physician by the end of 2017.

Bill 20 quota system won't be enforced on general practitioners, as long as they meet 2017 deadline

A health-care professional uses a lighted instrument to look in the mouth of a child on an examining table.
Quebec's general practitioners have fought hard against patient quotas, arguing they would push physicians to leave for the private sector or find out-of-province work. (Damian Dovarganes/The Associated Press)

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette has made a deal with the province's federation of general practitioners in an effort to improve access to family doctors.

Barrette will drop the idea of imposing a patient quota, but doctors will have to find a way to make sure 85 per cent of Quebecers have a family physician by the end of 2017.

Barrette called the tentative agreement between the Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens du Québec (FMOQ) and the health ministry a "historic moment in the evolution of our healthcare system."

'My objective to me as a minister is for the whole population to have access,- Health Minister Gaétan Barrette 

Under the new agreement, Barrette said everybody who wants a doctor will be able to get one.

"My objective to me as a minister is for the whole population to have access," he told Homerun.

"It's a strong commitment to deliver by that date."

Until now, Barrette's plan to increase access to family doctors included requiring general practitioners to take on a minimum number of patients.

That quota system, a controversial aspect of Bill 20, drew a lot of criticism from family doctors.

The new tentative agreement puts pressure on general practitioners to find their own, alternative solution.

Some physicians skeptical

Some doctors say the new agreement may eliminate the problem of a quota, but put a different type of pressure on doctors.

Dr. Dominique Hotte is not sure it will work.

"Sure, probably people will be registered to a family doctor, but I just hope that they can see him as often as they need," Hotte said. 

"I wish us all good luck, because it's going to be a very hard battle."

FMOQ president Louis Godin said the federation will introduce alternative measures to help guide family physicians and ensure they stay on track to meet the 2017 target. 

Godin said eliminating specific medial activities is one of the most significant changes.

For instance, most family physicians are required to work a minimum number of hours per week at a local hospital.

Instead of fulfilling that obligation, general practitioners will be expected to take on more patients at their practice. 

If the FMOQ fails to meet the 2017 target, the province could step back in and enforce the quota. 

The quota system will still be imposed on specialists. 

Longstanding issue

Access to family doctors has been an issue for years. 

According to Statistics Canada, 24 per cent of residents were without a regular doctor as of 2012 — well above the national average of 15 per cent.

Myles Charron, a Montrealer who said he's been without a doctor for 15 years, said he would wait to see how it plays out.

"The promise is amazing, the results, you know, we'll wait to see," he said. 

"But if they actually deliver, of course it would be phenomenal."