Last week, Fredrykka Rinaldi, the president of the Alberta Medical Association, which represents physicians in the province, published an update on the number of Alberta physicians accepting patients.
According to Rinaldi, recent data from the albertafindadoctor.ca website shows that the number of family doctors in the province accepting new patients continues to decline.
albertafindadoctor.ca is a website developed through a partnership between Alberta’s Primary Care Networks and Alberta Health Services.
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The AMA provided a data snapshot that showed the difference between the number of family doctors accepting new patients in June 2020 and in July 2023.
Here is the information, broken down by zone:
Across the entire province, nearly 700 family doctors have stopped taking new patients.
Part of the reason, Rinaldi says, is that some doctors “are leaving comprehensive practice or moving away because their current practices are not viable”.
The largest drop in doctors accepting new patients was in Calgary, followed by Edmonton. That shouldn’t be surprising given how large the two cities are.
Not a single health zone has even 100 doctors accepting new patients, whereas two of them (Calgary and Edmonton) did so 3 years ago, and a third (North) was just shy of the 100 mark.
On a percentage basis, the South Zone saw the largest drop, losing 89% of their doctors who are accepting new patients. This is the health zone that contains Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
Edmonton was a very close second, with just below 89%.
The South Zone also had the lowest number of doctors accepting new patients. AMA reports that there are only 6 doctors in the entire health zone accepting new patients. This is the only health zone that has single-digit numbers.
The next lowest was the Central Zone, which had 26 doctors accepting new patients. That’s 4 times as many as the number in the South Zone.
Now let’s compare the number of doctors accepting patients in each zone to the number of people living in each zone. The population data is taken from Alberta Health Services’ 2021–2022 annual report, the most recent annual report. It is based on 2020 data.
|Population||Docs per 100K|
|Docs per 100K|
Here we see that every health zone has seen a decrease in the number of family doctors taking patients per 100,000 people. The Calgary Zone saw the largest drop in this number, followed closely by Edmonton.
The only other health zone that saw a double-digit drop in the number of family doctors per 100,000 people who are still taking new patients was the South Zone, which actually has the smallest population of all the health zones.
Given that they saw the third largest drop, it shouldn’t be that surprising that they went from having the second lowest rate of doctors taking new patients in 2020 to the lowest rate this summer.
There are fewer than 2 doctors per 100,000 people in the South Zone still taking new patients., compared to just under 18 doctors in 2020.
Edmonton had the second lowest rate in 2023, at 2.32 doctors. In 2020, they had the second highest rate.
The 2023 rate displayed in the table below is based on 2020 population data, which means the rate would be smaller if the population has increased over the last 3 years.
Riyaan Hassen, a family physician in Calgary, said in a comment on Rinaldi’s update that owning a family practice is becoming less viable.
It’s just not viable owning a practice anymore. You have to offer doctors less than 30% office fees just to attract them, but at that rate, you lose money on wages/rent and all other expenses. For family practices to survive in their current form, office fees will need to be closer to 35-40%. Even with low office fees, many new doctors do not want to be family docs. They prefer specialty clinics and better work life balance.
Hassen predicts that we’re probably going to see things get worse before they get better.
I expect many family medical clinic closures in the next 1–2 years. Where many other specialities can charge 45–50% office fees and still the associates make more money than a family doctor that works 5 or even 6 days a week.
Rinaldi claims that fixing what she refers to as a “crisis” will take a long time.
We need action soon to keep the physicians we have, and we must get started on years of work it will take to recruit and build back in a worldwide health human resource competition.