The care deficit: Preparing to seek solutions

December 15, 2021

Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren, AMA President

Dear Members,

In recent months we have opened a dialogue with Albertans about the COVID-19 care deficit, its effects and possible solutions. We’ve all seen the increasingly frequent news reports about the care deficit and the public has weighed in through albertapatients.ca to help us understand the ways in which they've been affected. We have shared how physicians are feeling in terms of dealing with the care deficit in our patient populations.

We asked some patients to send us short video messages telling us about their personal care deficits. When we look in their eyes, and at the patients we see in our own practices each day, it is clear the care deficit is a real presence. How do we get patients the care they need? How can we deliver the referrals, procedures, diagnostic services, community support and continuity of care that will be required as we shift from pandemic to endemic at a time that no one can predict? How can we make our system better during this time of significant challenge when it was challenged even before COVID-19?

There are no quick or easy answers, but talking about what is happening is a first step to finding our way out of the hole we are in. Additionally, we will need to work together to look at new, innovative solutions. The care deficit will keep growing if we only do the things that we have always done, and change will require all of us to be involved. The Minister of Health reported this week that the surgical backlog sits at 81,600 - up from 68,000 before wave four. He has set a target to catch up on the fourth wave increase by the middle of 2022. This is a huge challenge when we consider staff shortages, including, for example, in anesthesia. Fatigue and burnout are everywhere. We also know that community family medicine practices are struggling financially, with many having to make changes to their practices. Some have closed their doors or relocated. These pressures are not due to the care deficit, but dealing with them will need to be part of the solution.

I will be writing to you, speaking with media and reaching out to system partners in the weeks and months ahead. We need to pay attention to this unprecedented challenge. We must take action to keep community practices sustainable in both the short- and long-term. All efforts in acute care to reduce backlogs – an amazingly complex challenge – can only succeed if there is robust primary care in the community to support the patients who have been impacted. We will still focus on finding a way back to the negotiating table (and I will keep you updated on that). A negotiated agreement is the best foundation if we are to make a dent in the care deficit.

Physicians can help lead the way with expertise and advocacy. We have analyzed all the input members provided in our August survey about how the care deficit is appearing in practices. There is a wide range of issues that fall into eight common themes. We will be diving into these in 2022 and you will hear all about them as we move forward.

I will be in touch again soon. I always appreciate comments and questions. Please let me know what’s on your mind.

  • Communicate with me privately and directly by email if you would like a reply: president@albertadoctors.org.
  • Comment publicly on this President’s Letter (please be aware that comments are public, i.e., not members-only, even if you are logged in as a member).

Sincerely,

Vesta Michelle Warren, MD, CCFP, FCFP
President, Alberta Medical Association

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