Family doctor shortage in Parksville Qualicum Beach: new clinic said to be a pilot project (with video)

Group hopeful this plan will help attract more family doctors to area

A Perfect Storm will bring a new doctors’ clinic to Qualicum Beach this year.

The group that has been working behind the scenes to increase the amount of family physicians in the region now has a plan it hopes will show how a new way to operate family physcians’ offices can attract doctors to an area where thousands do not have a family doctor.

The plan is to open a clinic of three family doctors — hopefully by the fall — using a new model that frees physicians from the business side of their practices and allows them to concentrate on medicine, Dr. Mark Morris said last week.

“It’s not something they teach you in medical school, how to be a business person,” said Morris, one of the lead members of the Perfect Storm Group, which was formed 18 months ago from members of the Oceanside Division of Family Practice, politicians, business people and community groups.

Morris said physicians, especially the younger ones coming out of med school, are interested in a more balanced lifestyle and less interested in dealing with the business side of a practice.

That means they are looking to be part of a clinic with a number of physicians so they can get some time off and also share costs, or perhaps pay a set percentage of their earnings and have someone else take care of the business side (staff, payroll, supplies, equipment, lease agreements, etc.).

The plan for this new clinic, which will be in Qualicum Beach at a location yet to be finalized, will incorporate those ideas, said Morris. The clinic would be owned by a non-profit society and doctors would pay a set percentage of the income they derive from billing the province for their services to that society to cover rent, staff, equipment and other bills associated with running a doctors’ office, said Morris.

The non-profit foundation has been formed as a registered society but has a waiting period before it can issue tax receipts for donations, according to Perfect Storm Group member Tom Davies.

Davies said the Parksville Qualicum Beach region is in a “crisis situation” when it comes to the availability of family doctors.

This region of approximately 46,000 people should be served by 38 family physicians, according to the doctor/patient ratio recommended by the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

When the Perfect Storm Group started its work in late 2015, there were 24 full-time-equivalent family doctors, with 10-14 of them planning for retirement. Those numbers have gotten worse — four more family physicians have left practices here in the last year. An estimated 4,500 residents of the Parksville Qualicum Beach region are without a family doctor.

Parksville Qualicum Beach is not alone in its need for more family physicians. There’s a shortage nationwide as people coming out of medical school steer more toward specialties rather than family practice. There are currently postings for 67 family physicians on Vancouver Island alone.

Morris said other communities — Gabriola and Lasqueti islands are examples — have had success with community-driven models to help attract physicians.

“Island Health, the Ministry of Health, aren’t really helping with solutions so communities are taking it on themselves,” said Morris, expanding on the discussion about “community-owned, community-operated, community-driven” clinics.

Morris also said it’s important to differentiate between the needs of larger cities and those of smaller centres.

“What works in Victoria may not work in Oceanside,” said Morris. “That’s one of the reasons we want to separate from them (Island Health and the Ministry of Health).”

The model for the new clinic would have family physicians seeing 25-30 patients a day, as opposed to the 40-50 some family doctors are seeing in their clinics now. The physicians for this new pilot clinic may come from outside the region or from local, existing clinics, said Morris, adding that it’s key all involved work together.

“We’re not wanting to impose on existing clinics,” he said.

More information about the Qualicum Parksville Healthcare Foundation, the non-profit society that would own and operate the new clinic, is to come soon, said Davies.