Family doctors becoming in short supply

Brian Evoy with isBrite Consulting discussed GP for Me research findings about primary health care needs Thursday at the Maple Ridge Art Gallery. - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Brian Evoy with isBrite Consulting discussed GP for Me research findings about primary health care needs Thursday at the Maple Ridge Art Gallery.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

Having a family doctor is good for your health, but it’s getting more challenging.

There are more than 16,000 residents of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows who don’t have a family doctor – about 17 per cent of the population.

And two trends will make it tougher for them to find one.

Firstly, the population is expected to grow by 18,000 people in the next 10 years.

Secondly, over the next decade, more than a third of the 65 general practitioners in the community are planning to retire.

“So you can see, it’s a difficult situation we’re in,” said Brian Evoy, who presented the findings.

A GP for Me is the name of a new health initiative that is aimed and connecting patients in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows with family physicians who are taking patients. The initiative is led by the Doctors of B.C. (formerly the B.C. Medical Association), and locally by the Division of Family Practice.

On Friday evening at The Act, the division presented the results of its research into the topic to an audience of health care professionals and community leaders.

Evoy was the presenter. He said patients who have a family doctor get better health care – they take fewer prescriptions and get fewer diagnostic tests – than those who use walk-in clinics or emergency rooms to access the health care system. In addition to such statistics, the research revealed the burdens doctors bear. Some of the biggest concerns facing doctors are the amount of non-clinical work, the volume of patients, the increased complexity of patient load and the growing demand from chronic care patients, such as those with depression, dementia and diabetes.

There were other interesting findings, such as 40 per cent of walk-in clinic visits are by patients who don’t have a family doctor, and 14-16 per cent of maternity clinic patients do not have a GP.

“The research phase of A GP for Me has been an important first step in planning the future of access to primary health care in our community,” said Dr. Ken Burns, chair of Ridge Meadows Division of Family Practice and a local family physician. “Not addressing these statistics could have serious implications.”

At 61, Burns is one of those doctors who will retire in the next decade. He said a traditional family doctor relationship is not only good for patients, but also for physicians.

“I have a lot more satisfaction in looking after someone I know, and care about,” he said.

He has practiced in Maple Ridge for 35 years, and some of the mothers who are his patients now were once children he delivered.

“I’ve delivered lots of babies of the babies I delivered,” is how he puts it.

In attracting and retaining doctors, he said being a good place to live is an asset to Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

“We have a great community, and we’re bringing in new physicians all the time,” he said. “People feel welcome in our community.”

A large “young families” demographic also helps. Burns said two new GPs have recently arrived, practicing obstetrics, and a third is coming. All are in their 30s. Compared with other communities in B.C., that is an enviable situation.

Burns said his fellow physicians and the project’s planning team are reviewing recommendations and evaluating possible solutions in order to address the current health care situation, with decisions to be made in early spring.


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