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Alberta physicians to receive funding based on patient roster size

Doctors in Alberta are raising concerns with the government’s plan to offset costs for primary care providers. Critics say it is setting a benchmark many rural physicians might not meet.

In October, the government announced it would provide $57 million over three years to support family practitioners in managing their increasing number of patients.

“This funding will help family practitioners manage their growing number of patients and is another way we’re taking action to stabilize and strengthen primary health care,” said Alberta Minister of Health Adriana LaGrange.

The province says providers could get up to $10,000 annually through the Panel Management Support Program. However, some physicians say it might not go very far.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s a drop in the bucket. But at this point, I think any bit of funding is helpful to receive,” said Dr. Stephanie Frigon.

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The dollar amount is based on the number of patients on a physician’s panel, the more patients, the more funding per year. Doctors can use the Central Panel Attachment Registry (CPAR). If doctors are not on the CPAR, Alberta Health will calculate the doctor’s roster through its four-cut method.

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The minimum number of patients required for funding is 500, which Frigon says could hurt rural doctors like herself.

“I emailed the program to say look I didn’t get any funding from this. They emailed me back saying that the number they got by their method was 478, so I was 22 patients short of this program funding,” said Frigon.

Frigon is a doctor in Westlock, Alta. She believes the 500 panel size benchmark is too high, as many physicians are not serving that many continual patients.

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“Lots of people aren’t going to receive this funding. I think that’s just another nail in the coffin for people to choose not to do this anymore, to choose to go into subspecialty practices like hospital medicine or emergency,” Frigon said.

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In a statement provided to Global News, the Ministry of Health says “There is no mandatory requirement for a physician to register their roster of patients to receive funding or the provision of insured services,”

“The Government of Alberta is committed to supporting physicians and will soon be announcing additional measures to support primary care and rural generalist physicians including the distribution of an additional $92 million in funding the first week of April as part of government’s commitment to provide stabilization funding,” said press secretary Andrea Smith.

Frigon hopes this is the first of many changes, as staff at some family practices are starting to dwindle.

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“The enjoyment, the fulfillment is still there but I just feel like each day it’s wearing more and more on us that this is a job that’s challenging and we’re really not being recognized in a way that’s sustainable for that,” she said.

The province also said it is committed to working with physicians to develop a new primary care compensation model.

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