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Editorial: Our family doctor shortage demands a new strategy

More than 7,600 people are on the wait list for a family GP on the North Shore alone
family doctor Lisa Gaede
Family doctor Lisa Gaede and medical office assistant Gail Zeigelmeier get ready to receive patients at the North Shore Medical Group on Lonsdale Avenue. Gaede worries that she is one of a dwindling number of local doctors.

Our universal access to health care is a point of pride among Canadians but try telling that to the one-in-five British Columbians who don’t have a family doctor. More than 7,600 people are on the wait list for a family GP on the North Shore alone.

Our demographics, unfortunately, suggest things will get worse before they get better. Our rapidly aging population means more demand for health care. But it also includes some rapidly aging doctors who ready for retirement. Every time one moves on, the crunch gets that much worse.

B.C.’s family physicians have made clear why it’s getting harder to persuade new grads to go into family practice – the administrative burden is too great and the overhead costs are too high – and they haven’t had any luck persuading the government to meaningfully address either.

People without a family doc can still see a physician via an Urgent and Primary Care Centre, like the one we have in Lower Lonsdale, but wait times can be just as bad or worse as going to an ER. And, unlike a family doctor, the one who greets you there won’t know your personal history. It is by its nature reactive, not proactive.

We believe family doctors still have a vital role to play in the health of our populace. Our population is growing and the grey wave is just beginning to crest, and so we cannot rest on the investments and strategies that worked in family medicine 30 years ago. It’s time for the government to remember the critical adage: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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