40% of British Columbians Fear Losing Their Family Doctor to Practice Closure or Retirement: Study

By Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.
April 13, 2022 Updated: April 13, 2022

In the midst of a province-wide doctor shortage, forty percent of British Columbians who have a family doctor say they are worried about losing that health provider due to practice closure or retirement, new research shows.

One million British Columbians currently don’t have, or can’t get, a family doctor, according to a position paper published on April 12 by the BC College of Family Physicians (BCCFP).

“Family medicine is in a state of crisis,” BCCFP President David May said in a news release regarding the new research.

“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.”

In February 2022, BCCFP commissioned a survey with interviews conducted online and via telephone by Mustel Group. The sample of B.C. residents aged 18 years and older was distributed across the province’s five geographic health authority areas and weighted to match Statistics Canada census data based on gender, age, and region.

The poll shows 73 percent of B.C. residents aged 18 to 34 have a family physician, while 84 percent say they have “an ongoing relationship with a family physician.” Almost all (93 percent) of the survey respondents say it is important to have one health professional responsible for their care. Eighty percent of the respondents say they see a family physician “regularly.”

Among the 16 percent who don’t have a family doctor, two-thirds said they “can’t find one,” while 19 percent said their former doctor closed their practice—a 100 percent increase compared to the previous research polling conducted in 2019.

The research also surveyed more than 800 family physicians on a series of open-ended questions, revealing the challenges facing health practitioners in the province.

In particular, 36 percent of B.C.’s family physicians say they feel undervalued and inadequately supported by the government, and that they don’t believe officials understand their current work experiences—loaded with mounting stress, increasing complexity, demands on time, and burden of non-clinical work.

May also noted that family physicians have wasted up to a quarter of their time on charting, completing forms, and managing referrals—time family doctors believe could be better spent in providing direct patient care.

This report comes as the B.C. Health Department last week announced plans to invest $3.46 million in short-term measures to support primary care on south Vancouver Island. The measures include supports for physicians, new nursing and allied health resources, and stabilization for five walk-in clinics.

In an April 8 news release, the government said it recognizes the need to support family practices, which will remain “a part of the primary care system” in the transition toward a “team-based approach” to primary care.

“The ministry and Doctors of BC are in discussions about a timeline and process for addressing issues facing family practices over the next several months,” it stated. “The Province will continue working with the Doctors of BC, family physicians and other partners to keep improving primary care services for patients throughout British Columbia.”

Preliminary data from the latest National Physician Health Survey, conducted by the Canadian Medical Association last November, found that 46 percent of respondents across the country are considering reducing their clinical hours due to burnout.  More than half of physicians and medical learners reported high levels of burnout, up from 30 percent in 2017.

“COVID-19 has impacted the health workforce in ways we still can’t really quantify. But people at all career stages are now implicated as are all the major sectors of health care, and it is clear that health workers are on the brink of collapse with little left to give,” said Michael Villeneuve, chief executive officer of the CNA, in a March 10 statement calling on governments to address health worker burnout.

“The pandemic may be waning, but we are still in the middle of a health-care crisis.”

Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.