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Chilliwack doctor sounding the alarm over B.C. crisis in family medicine

‘Without support from the health care system, things will only get worse,’ says local family doctor
Dr. Astrid Wells

Dr. Astrid Wells of Chilliwack is joining her colleagues in sounding the alarm about the huge number of British Columbians who still do not have a family doctor.

“As a family doctor, I care deeply about my own patients, and about all those in my community who don’t have access to a family doctor who knows them, and can care for them over time,” Dr. Wells said.

It’s not a new problem, and it’s not just in Chilliwack.

The BC College of Family Physicians (BCCFP) released a report with the ‘My Family Doctor Cares’ campaign confirming almost one million residents in B.C. do not have a regular family doctor.

“In the Chilliwack area, and across the province, family medicine is in a state of crisis,” said Dr. Wells.

“Family doctors are leaving their practices and new doctors aren’t entering comprehensive family medicine. Without more support from the health care system, things will only get worse.”

So what can be done?

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Wells said, adding that different solutions might work for practices with different demographics.

The college’s ‘My Family Doctor Cares’ campaign culminates on May 19 with Family Doctor Day to raise awareness about the crisis.

Family doctors are known to play a key role in early identification of disease, managing chronic and complex illness and helping people stay well.

But the fact remains that physicians can spend up to a quarter of their time charting, completing forms, and managing referrals, which is time they believe could be better spent on direct patient care.

One concrete action the local doctor took was hiring a “practice manager” to help eliminate non-patient-related administrative work.

“It really helps,” Dr. Wells said. “When I am seeing 30 to 40 patients a day, if my computer system crashes for example and has to be replaced, or repaired, I don’t have time to sort that out.”

People often forget that family doctors are actually running small businesses, she underlined.

She also made a point of recruiting a “practice nurse” to add to the team.

“It’s been phenomenal. She is able to do pap tests, and chronic disease management, and more,” the local doctor explained.

Those actions have cut the amount of the time it takes to get an appointment with her from two months, to a few days, which she said was an “amazing” feat.

“For everyone in our community to have access to the care they need and deserve, we need a plan that supports and invests in family doctors in our province.”

Family Doctor Day on May 19 will see physicians converging on an event in Victoria, meeting with government officials, and raising awareness among MLAs about the crisis that has left one-in-five Canadians unattached with a primary care provider.

“We want to work with the B.C. Government to reduce administrative burdens and improve access to ensure everyone who wants a family doctor has that choice,” says Dr. Wells.

“We need to create the conditions to recruit and retain more family doctors in the practice of family medicine.”

RELATED: Government needs to rethink how family doctors are paid: doctor

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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