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Walk-in clinic wait times in B.C. up to four times the national average

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Patients wanting to see a doctor at a walk-in clinic in North Vancouver waited an average of 160 minutes last year. In Victoria, the average wait was 137 minutes. The two B.C. cities topped the list of the 2022 Medimap Walk-in Clinic wait time data index for all of Canada.

Rounding out the top five for B.C. were Vancouver, at 71 minutes; Burnaby, at 65 minutes; and Langley at 60 minute average waits. The national average was 37 minutes.

“Wait times in B.C. are bad, and they’ve been getting worse,” said Teddy Wickland, Medimap’s vice president of operations. “One of the things that we are noticing is, frankly, there are fewer doctors going into family medicine, and there are a lot of wal- in clinics that we are hearing anecdotally that are closing their doors.”

The average wait time at all walk-in clinics across B.C. was 79 minutes, which was 21 minutes longer than in 2021 and 36 minutes longer than in 2020.

In comparison, patients in Ontario waited an average of only 25 minutes to see a walk-in clinic doctor last year, and Albertans waited 34 minutes.

Dr. Yashar Tashakkor, the medical director of Carefiniti Health which has three clinics on the North Shore, says working at a walk-in clinic is more difficult than a traditional practice.

“You see anywhere from 30 to 50 patients, you have to get to know them very quickly because you don’t have a history.”

He thinks the long wait times at B.C. walk-in clinics are a result of some physicians choosing not to work in that type of environment, and the fact so many residents don’t have a family doctor.

“What would be interesting is to look at comparing the wait times of different areas to the number of patients that do not have a family doctor and whether they reflect each other in parallel, because it would make sense if more people who don’t have family doctors would have to look for a walk-in clinic,” said Tashakkor.

Wickland said recruiting doctors has been very difficult in B.C.

“You would think a place like (Metro) Vancouver could recruit pretty well, but no. When we talk to some of the larger clinics and health authorities in B.C., that’s their number one priority is doctor recruiting.”

Tashakkor is hopeful a new fee structure for family doctors that came into effect Feb. 1 will take the pressure off of B.C.’s walk-in clinics.

“The incentive will be there for more physicians to decide to practise family medicine, and the incentive for more physicians to take on new patients as their own patients, and so there will be less need for patients having to go to a walk-in clinic,” he said.

Wickland agrees the new fee structure should help.

“There has also been expanded rights for other types of health care professionals, so pharmacists for example can now treat patients for what we call 'minor ailments.' And I expect that list of what a pharmacist can treat you for will expand in the coming months and years,” he said.

Tashakkor predicts as the new measures come into effect, walk-in clinic wait times will begin to come down this year.

”I would use this statistic as a baseline, and going forward I imagine the wait times in B.C. across different neighborhoods will continue to improve,” he said.

In the meantime, Wickand suggests patients needing to visit a walk-in clinic in Metro Vancouver check Medimap to see where the wait times are the shortest. “You might not cross a body of water to go to a walk-in clinic because that seems so far away to you,” Wickland said. “But that walk-in clinic up there is wide open with fewer patients, and all the ones that happen to be around you are closed or at capacity.”

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