A tricky situation among Alberta's doctors. It's been widely reported that changes to Alberta doctors' pay are causing physicians to jump ship to other provinces. If you're wondering why that is or what it means for you, you're not alone. 

Narcity spoke to Dr. Christine Molnar, the President of the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) about the matter.

When asked if physicians are, in fact, leaving the province, Dr. Molnar said, "yes, absolutely."

"We've had quite a number of, not only rural family doctors but we're losing urban family doctors and specialists."

She doesn't have exact numbers on how many have made the move recently but AMA does plan to hold a survey down the line. 

CBC News reported that "more than a handful" of physicians have said publicly that they will leave the province. 

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Why are doctors leaving Alberta?

A government economic report from 2019 proposed that "restraining spending on health care" would be needed to balance the provincial budget. 

This includes budget cuts, which have been implemented by changing billing codes, putting caps on patient visits, and more. 

On top of the cuts, Molnar believes it's the general approach of the government that has worried medical professionals. "The approach has not been collaborative." 

"They want to completely dictate what happens and how it happens, and they do not want meaningful negotiation," she said. "We're not allowed to strike. Our rights have been removed," said Dr. Molnar.

Moreover, she told us there isn't a process in place for them to work out their differences with the government.

How could this affect Albertans and their health care?

Dr. Molnar doesn't want to speculate too much at this point. The impact will be later, she noted. 

"If you have fewer doctors to provide services and you have a population that's growing, needing more services, a population that's ageing, needing more services, and you have fewer doctors providing those services...do the math."

The changes affect the patient-physician relationship in that "you're absolutely limited in what you might be able to do." 

Dr. Molnar said that while the current standards of receiving a medical license in Alberta are very high, "there's talk that Alberta might centralize the licensing process" and set up their own standards. 

"That hasn't come to pass but they're talking about that," she said. "If that happens, they can set lower standards." 

What's the Government of Alberta's response?

Steve Buick, the health minister's press secretary, told Narcity in an email that health care professionals come and go every year.

"We continue to see net gains of physicians, and we do not expect shortages overall or in any specific community," he said. 

Only "normal staffing challenges in small centres" might affect the number of doctors in certain communities, said Buick. 

He added that those from Alberta are actually the highest paid in Canada. 

Buick defended the province's health care changes, saying "since we've implemented our new funding framework in February, we've made a number of changes, in particular, to enhance supports for rural physicians," he said. 

He also said the government has been clear with AMA that they will not spend above $5.4 million, which is reportedly the current level. 

Dr. Molnar said that "this is a complicated situation." She added that many will absolutely stick around due to COVID-19 circumstances. 

"But at some point, the system will fail," she said, and expects more to move away or retire early. In the meantime, she's waiting for more data to see how it all pans out. 

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