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Doctor shortage blamed for long waits at Tri-City clinics

Doctors of BC is working with the provincial government to establish primary care networks that should help shorten the wait, says Coquitlam MD
Drs of BC
Dr. Kathleen Ross, president of Doctors of BC, says wait times to see a doctor at a walk-in clinic will be reduced once primary care networks are introduced that will give patients more options for care and reduce the pressure on family physicians.

A shortage of family physicians can be blamed for long wait times at walk-in clinics, says the president of Doctors of BC.

But changes are coming that could reduce wait times, said Dr. Kathleen Ross, who is also a Coquitlam physician.

Ross said there aren’t enough doctors to keep up with the population growth, resulting in long average wait times. The app Medimap said were up to nearly an hour in Coquitlam and 52 minutes in Port Moody.

With the population growing and more people needing complex care, doctors are stretched, leading to longer wait times, she said.

“We are certainly outpacing our human resources,” Ross told The Tri-City News.

However, recent initiatives could put a dent in those wait times.

Ross said Doctors of BC is working with the provincial government to establish primary care networks where clinics would offer the services of nurses, nurse practitioners and other health care professionals, such as nutritionists, pharmacists or addiction specialists, who would deal directly with patients and take some of the pressure off of doctors.

Either medical receptionists would direct patients depending on the presenting illness or problem, or patients would call the health professional directly and make an appointment, depending on their need.

“In practice, it should free up time for physicians to do things only a physician can do and provide a greater scope for patients,” said Ross, who noted the initiative, announced earlier this year, is still being rolled out, with the Fraser Northwest Division of Family Practice working on the plan.

“Studies show if if it’s part of a team, patients are happy to see any member of the team that’s appropriate.” she said.

Medimap, a free mobile app that allows patients to get alerts about wait times at local clinics, created an index of wait times across Canada and found that British Columbians experience some of the longest average wait times (50 minutes) in the country. In contrast, Albertans experience some of the shortest wait times, with an average of 23 minutes. 

According to Ross, Alberta is further ahead in establishing primary care networks, which could be why wait times are shorter.

In February, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix pledged a recruitment drive to hire 65 health care professionals over the next three years to staff the Tri-Cities new primary health networks, with an annual funding boost of $12 million once everyone’s in place.