During the past several years, medical walk-in clinics have been opening up with great frequency in British Columbia. They are filling a void left by a serious family doctor shortage. More often than not, the clinics are a person's primary health care provider.

It means staff who work at places like the The Ultima Medicentre in downtown Vancouver are very busy. About 40 people come each day to see a doctor. And like most walk-in clinics, the number of patients is increasing.

"Many of them even in the downtown area are having difficulty finding a family physician,'' said Ultima's Dr. Rainer Borkenhagen. "So given no other options, will go to a walk in clinic."

According to Statscan, last year in B.C., more than 130,000 people said they could not find a family physician.

To try to fix that problem, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. has now updated its guidelines for walk-in clinics.

It's reminding doctors that after three visits to the same clinic, it should be assumed the patient is seeking all their care from that clinic.

"And must also respond, assume responsibility for longer term, preventive care, pap smears, mammograms, chronic disease management and other things which are expected of primary care physicians," said Dr. Morris VanAndel , Registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Walk-in clinics are also required to provide after-hour availability or the creation of call groups as with traditional full-service family physicians to assure patietns have access to care .

Dr. Borkenhagen said Ultima is aware of its obligations.

"It's not surprising it needs to be stipulated although it's always, been accepted as a natural thing that if you start seeing patients and they come back that you should assume their care," he said.

That's good news for thousands of British Columbians without a family doctor. They can now rely on a walk-in clinic to take care of their more extensive medical problems.

With a report by CTV British Columbia's Dr. Rhonda Low