The Central Okanagan Division of Family Practice has begun preparations to combat what they say is a shortage of family medical practitioners in the area that will only get worse with time.
Together, along with funding from the Ministry of Health and Doctors of BC, they’ve launched "A GP for Me". This joint initiative is currently in its assessment phase and is asking local residents to provide feedback about health care services through a quick, anonymous survey.
The non-profit organization is made up with local doctors whose mandate is to improve the health system through the voices of family physicians, and the group’s executive director says their main goal is the issue of unattached patients, or residents without a permanent doctor.
“We are in the assessment stage right now and as part of that, we’re reaching out into the community to find out more about their thoughts and wishes,” explains Tristan Smith.
The community survey began last week and will continue through until the end of the month. A similar survey geared towards family practitioners has already gone out.
Smith says they are focusing their effort on the senior demographic at this point, noting that as people grow older it’s fair to say they will probably need more medical help at some point. That’s why they are targeting places like senior centres and assisted living centres, while allowing for the younger generations to access the survey through the group’s website.
“We estimate around 20 per cent of our population (in the Central Okanagan) don’t have a family doctor. That doesn’t mean they want one, it just means statistically they’re not visiting the same person if they’re getting medical attention consistently,” he says.
“It’s not personalized data. We don’t know who they are, but we have an understanding of who’s visiting a family doctor and if they’re going to the same person time and time again.”
He adds that data on these people is hard to come by generally, and that is another reason they are conducting the survey.
Smith says they were initially hoping for 600 responses, but have almost surpassed that number already. Their new goal is to hear from 1,000 residents in the Central Okanagan about their current level of medical care and any difficulties they’ve experienced in trying to get medical help. With this data they hope analysts can provide some general themes about the state of healthcare in the area and what needs should be addressed.
According to numbers provided to Smith from the Ministry of Health, early estimates show that by 2018 there will be a shortage of approximately 30 doctors in the Central Okanagan. Also during that time they anticipate a steady population growth and the possibility of other physicians retiring from their practices.
“We know right now we’re short. We’re not sure exactly how many. But we know there is a significant population that wants a family doctor, that’s having trouble getting one,” he says.
“We’re struggling with trying to attract new doctors into being a family doctor and not necessarily leaning towards just working in the hospital or with special interest groups.”
He also estimates that only a handful of new general practitioners have set up new practices over the past five years. That issue will also be addressed as the process moves forward.
Once the surveys have been collected and analyzed, Smith says they will come forward with proposed solutions for community partnerships.