Doctor says Alberta’s proposed funding changes will result in ’10-minute medicine’

Proposed changes to family medicine in Alberta will incentivize doctors to see patients for just 10 minute appointments in order to maintain or maximize revenue, one Calgary doctor says.

Dr. Matt Henschke has drafted a letter he plans to hand out to patients at Britannia Medical Clinic in southwest Calgary.

“We wanted them to be aware that we don’t necessarily want to change the way that we have to practise,” he said.

In the letter, he explains that due to changes to the Alberta health-care insurance plan, the clinic will:

  • Cut appointment length to 10 minutes.
  • Make seniors responsible for paying privately for drivers physicals.
  • Require multiple or more frequent visits for complex problems.
  • Reduce evening and weekend hours.

“It’s terrible,” Henschke said.

He said the majority of his patients are at least 75 years old and require longer appointments due to issues like mobility or complexity of medical problems.

But the province is proposing a modifier that currently kicks in for appointments longer than 15 minutes be transitioned to appointments longer than 25 minutes — meaning that, Henschke says, he’ll see a 30 per cent reduction in revenue for seeing four patients per hour, like he currently does. 

“So for us, to be able to pay our staff and keep our doors open, we wouldn’t be able to survive just on that,” he said.

Health minister responds

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro says it’s up to physicians — not the government — to dictate how much time is spent per patient.

“To the extent a physician wants to say they’re going to limit a health-care visit with a patient to 10 minutes, I think it’s unfortunate, but I think it also shows why our health-care costs in this province are ballooning,” he said. 

Henschke said he could even see costs go up, if patients instead feel compelled to book multiple appointments. 

“My suspicion is that we’ll see more frequent but shorter appointments, which end up costing the system the same in total that are just much more inconvenient for health care providers,” he said. 

Good-faith claims

Another change he said will impact patients is the lack of ability to bill for good-faith claims — services provided to Albertans who don’t have a health-care card. Henschke said that removal will directly target marginalized people, and will likely send many of them to urgent care centres or emergency rooms instead of family clinics, running up costs for their treatment.

“My understanding is it’s expected to save a very small amount of money … and so to me that seems relatively mean spirited,” he said. 

Henschke is asking patients to reach out to the minister or their MLA if they’re concerned.