Alberta doctors often fail to provide after-hours care, college says

Alberta’s college of physician and surgeons is cracking down on family doctors who don’t see patients after hours.

Only one-third of the province’s doctors currently arrange for or provide after-hours care for their patients, according to a recent survey by the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta, a problem the registrar says may be worsening already overcrowded conditions in emergency rooms.

Based on a recent telephone survey of 117 doctors, the college found the rest were not complying with a long-standing directive that they provide their patients with care outside of office hours, or arrange for that care.

“They [doctors] see it as a burden,” said college registrar Dr. Trevor Theman. “And it is, undoubtedly. But there are ways to manage that.”

The college’s governing body, made up of members of the public and practising doctors, has recommended that a new rule be drafted to make the expectations for after-hours care more clear.

Theman said he sees a generational gap among physicians; when he was in practice, doctors commonly found ways to care for their patients even after hours.

The college is currently seeking feedback from its members since January about a draft standard of practice called Continuity of Access to Care.

The draft outlines responsibilities physicians have in caring for their patients. 

According to the draft, physicians must have systems in place to:

“personally provide or arrange for continuous after-hours care to be provided through an appropriate health-care provider(s);
“ensure handover of relevant patient information to the after-hours health care provider(s) or service when a patient’s need for after-hours care is reasonably foreseeable; and, inform patients how to access the after-hours care.”

“Every time we raise the issue, we get feedback that is mixed,” Theman said.

The issue will be discussed at the next council meeting on May 28-29.



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