A group of Sechelt doctors is saying their practice is no longer sustainable, and they predict with the current trend, clinics will close in the future.
16 doctors in Sechelt penned a letter to the minister of health, the Premier, and Doctors of BC, stating how business expenses have increased while wages have remained stagnant.
Dr. Kevin Koopman, a family physician at the Cowrie Medical Clinic and signatory to the letter, says the doctors felt unless they spoke up, down the road, some ‘difficult decisions’ would have to be made by a clinic or by individual physicians.
“The intent of our letter was to say we— like everywhere— have a primary care crisis here on the Sunshine Coast that isn’t getting better. Current estimates were 4,000, 5,000 patients are unattached and there’s more people who are moving here each day,” said Koopman. “Our current clinics that we have are either capped at the amount of physicians they have, or capped at the amount of patients they can take on within their clinic and there is no help coming to provide more care.”
Koopman states the emergency department is just getting busier, and agrees that wait times are increasing due to a lack of family physicians.
“All the clinics here on the Sunshine Coast, we’re in constant communication of ‘how can we better serve the community?’ Pre-pandemic and sort of the start of the pandemic, we were doing a good job of sharing the load of saying ‘this clinic will help with unattached patients’ but we kind of reached a breaking point a couple months ago. We noticed that even with what we’re doing the emergency department is getting all those people who otherwise probably wouldn’t be there if they had a family doctor.”
Koopman says the point of the letter was to ask for help, so they can see what the plan for primary care is. Koopman says there’s a ‘patch’ put together to help take the load off, using the current ‘fee for service’ model.
“Basically you got paid X amount of dollars per visit plus the sort of alternate payment plan model which is contract-ish,” said Koopman. “Although they don’t want to put it as a contract where there will essentially be overhead coverage. The details are sound when you see it on paper but the part of the email from the doctors of BC that we wanted to address was that they said that they wanted the pay for current family physicians to be equitable— after overhead— to those who work in the hospital setting.”
Koopman states that with the primary care system, there is a personal responsibility when it comes to running a reputable practice.
“There’s a personal responsibility that people don’t necessarily want to take on, so we appreciate that they want to make it equitable to those positions, but we need to make it more attractive,” said Koopman. “Otherwise why would people want to move to the Sunshine Coast to practice medicine when they can make the same amount of money living in the city?”
As the cost of living in British Columbia goes up and the province sees the highest inflation rate in 40 years, Koopman agrees medical students are unable to afford the financial undertaking of opening a clinic, and end up moving to other provinces to practice.
The BC Government is plotting to add doctors, nurses, and health professionals to combat shortages, but according to the letter by Koopman and the fellow Sechelt doctors, Primary Care Networks, contracts, and hybrid billing systems are not sufficient models to alleviate the crisis.
A full version of the interview with Dr. Koopman is available here.