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CANADA: Editorial, The doctor is in

CALGARY, Alberta CANADA | MARCH 11, 2013 | The shortage of family doctors in Alberta has been well documented for years, along with the rise in so-called concierge clinics, where patients pay a hefty fee totalling as much as $10,000 a year for fast access to care and longer sessions with physicians.

Unfortunately, this situation has created an imbalance which the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons is rightly considering remedying.

The problem has been that when doctors in the public system opt to join a concierge, or boutique, clinic, they abandon their patients. This occurs because they are forbidden by the Canada Health Act to practise medicine in both public and private systems simultaneously. However, it also has the effect of leaving possibly thousands of patients without a family doctor in a situation where so many family doctors are unable to take new patients.

The proposed remedy would allow patients to continue to see their doctors for medically necessary care at the boutiques, without also forcing them to join as paying clients. Their bills would be paid by the public health system. This is an excellent stop-gap measure, for it allows patients to continue to access the care they need while taking the time to find a new family doctor.

College registrar Trevor Theman says this would mean the concierge clinics would have to change their business models. So be it. Patient care and access to doctors is the priority. The college should make this happen.

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