$81 Million dedicated to rural physician challenges

Significant investments recognize the challenge of providing health-care services in rural Alberta.

Effective immediately, the $60,000 cap on the Rural and Remote Northern Program (RRNP) will be abolished.

This program will now be the ‘most generous’ in the country.

Overhead changes announced earlier this year will be paused for urban physicians while an extensive review by AHS with physician involvement is completed.

Rural physicians will be exempted from any changes permanently.

Medical liability rates for all rural physicians, including obstetrics, will be frozen at $1,000. Rates for all family physicians in Alberta will also be frozen at $1,000.

Rates for all other urban physicians will range from a low of $1,200 to a maximum of $4,000.

On-call rates for all rural physicians will range from $20 per hour to $23 per hour, increasing payments to more than 1,500 physicians who are on call in rural Alberta.

$6 million will be used to pay for the schooling of 20 medical students over the next three years to incentivize young Albertans from rural communities to return to practise in their home communities after completing medical school.

Discussions between rural MLAs, rural health care physicians and Minister of Health Tyler Shandro have taken place extensively.

With these changes, Shandro believes these changes “will recognize that difference and will significantly improve access to health care for patients in rural communities.”

 Drumheller-Stettler MLA and Rural Caucus Southern Alberta chair Nate Horner added, “Rural physicians need to know they are supported and can focus on fighting this pandemic and serving communities.”

Horner has endorsed these immediate changes saying, “We’re all in this together and we’ll get through it by continuing to work together. Nobody understands this resilience like rural Albertans do.”

In addition, clinical researcher Dr. Lee Green, professor and chair of the Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, at the University of Alberta, has been contracted to engage physicians on how to improve health care in rural communities through alternative compensation models.

“As a longtime advocate of alternative funding models, I hope we can not only improve alternative funding programs themselves but use alternative funding approaches to improve primary health care in Alberta. That will mean engaging with, hearing, and applying the wisdom of the practice community to make real change happen.”

There are about 1,000 rural physicians practising in Alberta.

Initiatives being implemented for rural physicians:

    • Having the ability to earn more through the RRNP, effective immediately. The cap and flat fee components of the program will be removed and eligible communities will be reviewed.
    • Immediately increasing on-call rates for rural family medicine physicians with special skills from $11 per hour to $20 per hour, and for rural on-call from $20 per hour to $23 per hour.
    • Exempting rural physicians from the new overhead policy. Implementation of the overhead policy will be delayed for urban physicians until a complete policy review.
    • Freezing the Medical Liability Reimbursement Program deductible for all rural physicians and all family physicians at $1,000.00.
    • Engaging physicians on how to improve health care in rural communities.

Internationally recognized clinical researcher Dr. Lee Green has been contracted to provide advice on how to modernize alternative compensation models for physicians working in community-based primary care practice.

Dr. Green is a professor and chair of the Department of Family Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta.

He is also a practising physician, with academic research focused on the pillars of the Patient’s Medical Home model of primary care.

He will be creating a new salary model for primary care.

The Provincial Primary Care Network Committee will be asked to form a working group to provide recommendations on how to improve primary care in rural communities.

Alberta Health is spending about $81 million this year to address rural physician recruitment and retention through programs, including:

    • RRNP – provides direct financial incentives to physicians who live and practise in underserved communities.
    • Rural Health Professions Action Plan – works with communities to enhance the attraction and retention of health professionals for rural practice.
    • Rural Medical Education programs – support medical students and residents’ experiences with rural health care, with the goal of increasing interest in, and ultimately choosing a rural medicine career path.
    • Physician Locum Service Program – ensures that communities with four or fewer physicians have access to continuous medical coverage if a physician is unable to provide services due to short-term absences.
    • Rural On-Call Program – provides remuneration to physicians providing emergency on-call services at eligible facilities in rural areas.

 

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