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Chilliwack family doctor situation better than most

Physician lead for the A GP 4 Me program in Chilliwack, Dr. Melanie Madill, says five doctors have recently moved to town and as many are coming soon. - Paul J. Henderson
Physician lead for the A GP 4 Me program in Chilliwack, Dr. Melanie Madill, says five doctors have recently moved to town and as many are coming soon.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

If you’re a Chilliwack senior, odds are you have a family doctor.

If you’re a First Nations youth living in Hope, it’s less likely.

Those are a few of the “unsurprising” realities hidden in the statistical results of a primary health care survey conducted by the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice.

More than 3,000 people responded to the series of surveys conducted for the A GP for Me program. Overall, the rate of “unattachment”—those without a family doctor—was seven per cent for the study area, a number that parallels provincewide data.

Seventy-five per cent (2,279) of the surveys were completed by Chilliwack residents, with 411 from Agassiz-Harrison and 340 from Hope.

In Chilliwack, six per cent of respondents reported being unattached to a family doctor, a number that rose to seven per cent in Agassiz-Harrison and 10 per cent in Hope.

Seniors had the lowest unattachment rate to a GP at four per cent, while First Nations and youth were each at 12 per cent.

“One surprise came from Hope where the rate of unattached seniors jumps to 11 per cent,” the division reported in a survey highlights sheet.

While the statistics illuminate a number of areas, a number of uncertainties remain.

“Small communities are vulnerable when doctors retire or move away. The explanation for why youth and First Nations people is higher is less clear.”

Even the Division’s lead physician Dr. Ralph Jones was quick to use the “lies, damn lies and statistics” line when trying to unpack the results of the survey.

One thing that is clear from the survey results is that for those who are unattached to a GP, finding one isn’t easy.

“The general impression is that it is very hard to find a doctor in Chilliwack.”

Overall, Jones, Chilliwack Division of Family Practice executive director Ken Becotte, and physician lead for A GP for Me Dr. Melanie Madill said the situation locally is better than in most other communities.

There is less of an issue with the number of people who can’t find a family doctor in Chilliwack than there is with those who have one complaining about the relationship they have with theirs.

The biggest issue reported in the surveys was length of appointments; many complained that doctors would only allow one issue per visit, and some others “complained that the doctor never looked at them, only at their computers.”

Things are certainly not perfect, they all admit.

For example, if you call the Primary Health Clinic at Chilliwack General Hospital—the place where they would like anyone who does not have a family doctor to start—it will be August before you get an appointment.

“I can tell you I think that is too long,” Madill said.

The division has been recruiting, and Madill said five physicians have arrived in the area since September and “at least as many” are waiting in the wings.

“We’ve been pretty good at keeping up with the vacancies that have been created,” Madill said.

• For more on the Division and the A GP for Me program, visit www.divisionsbc.ca/chilliwack.

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