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Home News Lack of family doctors a major concern as SMA president stops in Prince Albert

Lack of family doctors a major concern as SMA president stops in Prince Albert

Lack of family doctors a major concern as SMA president stops in Prince Albert
Dr. John Gjevre addresses the SMA after being named the organization’s 56th president in May 2022. -- SMA Twitter page

Lack of family doctors and increasing overhead costs were the main issues brought forward during the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) annual fall tour says SMA president Dr. John Gjevre.

Gjeve was in Prince Albert on Wednesday to meet with local physicians. He said those problems are occurring across Canada, and Saskatchewan is no exception.

“There are many patients who can’t get a family doctor and it’s a complicated issue,” said Gjevre, a practicing respirologist in Saskatoon. “There’s certainly an issue with a lack of family doctors across the entire country, it’s not just Saskatchewan.”

He explained that most physicians in the province are not salaried employees with the Saskatchewan Health Authority but are more like small business owners, where every cost is covered out of their own pocket.

“Their costs go up, whether that’s renting their office space, buying new equipment for the office, paying their overhead; they have admin assistants, secretaries. Those costs have gone up and yet the reimbursement is fixed by the negotiation with government,” Gjevre said.

The contract between the SMA and the Ministry of Health ended on March 31, 2022, with neither organization taking the steps towards negotiating a new three-to-five-year agreement as of yet. This means the current wages for physicians in the province have not gone up with the price of inflation, leaving them to eat the extra costs.

Another issue Gjevre has heard during his 12 stops around the province is the strain on healthcare workers brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everybody’s been affected by the pandemic; everybody is tired of it. It’s not over, but it’s better than it was,” said Gjevre. “A lot of people working long hours are getting burnt out, it’s been hard on folks. Not just doctors, not just nurses, but everybody in the healthcare system.”

After interviewing numerous doctors and other stakeholders in Saskatchewan, and looking at other healthcare models, other provinces and countries, the Primary Care Compensation Working Group (PPCWG) found that the current healthcare system needs a transformation.

Gjevre said one of the ideas that has been suggested as a forefront for possible change is a concept called the ‘Patient Medical Home’, a team approach to taking care of patients.

“It has the patient at the centre with the family doctors at quarterback, and a team around them. A part of that team are other doctors, you might have a surgeon who is part of your regular contacts or an internist or pediatrician. So that there is a team of professionals helping to taking care of the patient with a team approach,” he explained.

According to the Patient’s Medical Home website, the system is the “future of family medicine in Canada”.

Prince Albert is the last stop of the SMA’s President and Vice-President Tour, where Gjevre and Dr. Annette Epp, a Saskatoon gynecologist, met with 20 to 30 local doctors for a meeting on Wednesday evening at Victoria Square.

“I’m looking forward to hearing from the doctors tonight to see what is unique here in Prince Albert and how we can work with them and the government to improve things for the healthcare system because we all rely on it,” Gjevre said. “I go to the doctor, you go to the doctor, we’re all patients at times so we all want a good healthcare system where we’re at.”

Gjevre will take his findings from all 12 stops to the Representative Assembly on Oct. 28to 29, where roughly 100 representatives from Medical Staff Associations, specialty sections, medical students and residents from across the province will meet to consider health issues of interest and to set policy.

The annual tour is a tradition of the SMA and is a key means by which SMA leadership stays in touch with physicians across the province. The association is a member-based organization of 2,500 doctors in Saskatchewan that advocate for physicians and a better healthcare system.