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The Death of Family Medicine

The Death of Family Medicine

Moments ago, while sitting on the ward completing a death certificate, a disturbing thought entered my mind. It should have been of the lonely man who just died of esophageal cancer, but instead it was of my profession. Tonight, after months of reading and studying Bill 20, it felt like I was writing a death certificate for Family Medicine.

It might sound melodramatic, but this how many of us feel – abandoned, powerless, misunderstood, betrayed. Despite our eloquent speeches and thoughtful editorials, the Minister of Health stubbornly pushes ahead with proposed Bill 20.

What is Bill 20? Truthfully, most of us don`t know. The Minister of Health has provided few clues besides threats of unspecified quotas. We know he will restrict IVF based on age, and deny women the choice to discuss and seek care publically and privately beyond age 42. We know he will demand proof of sexual relations for women under age 42, as well as psychiatric assessments in certain cases, before funding IVF. However, for Family Physicians, there are few to no details.

The Minister has stated one clear objective – a Family Doctor for each citizen – but the Bill to improve access will likely accomplish the opposite because it fails to recognize who Family Doctors are and what we do.

Let`s assume Bill 20 passes and each Family Doctor is legislated to increase his or her patient roster to 1000-1500 patients. Simply, one of two outcomes will happen: Family Doctors will comply or not. For those who choose not to increase the number of patients, a salary cut of 30% will be imposed. For the remainder, the practices will swell and patients, who already experience long wait times to see the doctor, will have to wait longer.

Next, the Minister will impose minimum daily quotas. Again, doctors will have the same two options: comply or absorb a 30% pay cut. Predictably, patient care is compromised: appointments are shorter and hurried.

You see, it`s easy to manipulate statistics, or in this case, patients and Family Doctors. After all, is it not more convenient to blame the lack of Family Doctors on Family Doctors as opposed to, say, Government policy? It seems as if there is nothing that Family Doctors cannot be faulted for nowadays – spending too much time with patients, spending too much time with our families, spending too much time at the hospital, spending too much time teaching, etc.

However, the paradox of Bill 20 is that while it will increase the number of citizens who have a Family Doctor, it will actually worsen access. After all, how many hours a day can each Family Doctor legitimately work? The dirty secret of Bill 20 is that patients actually lose choices and access by being limited only to their Family Doctor. Forget about calling the walk-in clinic around the corner on nights and weekends – you are contractually bound to your Family Doctor. Break this bond and your Family Doctor gets fined. How much? You guessed it – 30%.

The great irony of Bill 20 is that not having a Family Doctor improves access. Having a Family Doctor should improve care but only if patients are treated as individuals not numbers.

All this brings us back to the essence of Family Medicine. Who is a Family Doctor? Unlike “GPs“, Family Doctors are specialists who provide community-based, skilled, comprehensive care to a defined population. This care is forged through the doctor-patient relationship and emphasizes evidence-based health promotion and disease prevention while advocating for patients and respecting community resources.

But Family Doctors are people to. We are husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, children and caregivers. We are not civil servants; we do not receive pensions or vacation time or sick time. We pay for our supplies and our equipment, our rents and our staff, and we do not get paid when we do not work. We all made choices to go in to the service of others, and at times, made sacrifices for this education and training.

So, why the obituary for Family Medicine in Quebec? Frankly, who will choose to stay? Would you accept a 30% pay cut? The older Family Doctors may choose to close shop; the younger doctors may not consider starting at all. For the rest of us, will we be content practicing a form of medicine that bears little resemblance to our chosen and beloved profession? The heart of Family Medicine lies in the special doctor-patient relationship: a professional friendship cultivated over a lifetime, built on trust and caring. Family Medicine is about listening and teaching, educating and treating. We may click more cards with fast-food medicine, but we won’t be healthier.

So on this lonely evening, I fear for the future of Family Medicine in Quebec. The deliberations for Bill 20 have just begun. Make your voice heard. Don`t settle for a system that makes you Patient #1499; insist on a system that gives you choices, timely access and quality care. Every patient deserves a real Family Doctor who has the time to listen.