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Sask. government offers pay bump for family doctors who work later hours

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The Saskatchewan government will offer a bump in pay to encourage family doctors to work later hours.

On Friday, the provincial government announced an agreement with the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) to pay fee-for-service family doctors an extra $8 to $12 per visit if they're seeing a patient after-hours.

The province hopes the move might take some of the pressure off Saskatchewan's emergency rooms.

“Ensuring patients have access to family physicians and primary care services remains a top priority for our government,” health minister Paul Merriman said in a news release.

The head of the SMA said while it's "not a comprehensive solution" the change will "help with access while reducing the pressure on emergency departments."

"We continue to work with the Ministry of Health on other, sustainable changes – including a new compensation model for fee-for-service family physicians and a move to family physician-led care teams in the community," Dr. John Gjevre said in the news release.

The move comes the same week as the government introduced legislation paving the way for physician assistants to work in the province.

While it's not the agreement doctors have been looking for, it's a step in the right direction.

"We're working on better access to a family physician and a family physician led care team," Merriman said. "This is one step in that process. We will work out the details over the next probably week or so. My hope is to get this implemented as soon as possible."

The agreement, which is yet to be finalized, will give added compensation to urgent care clinics offering after hours services, which is expected to help the immense demand on emergency departments.

Family doctors will also receive a modest boost for working longer hours at these clinics.

"This is not the end cure-all fix. This is a measure that's going to help support our physicians to try to expand access and capacity while we work on transforming healthcare," Saskatchewan Medical Association president Dr. John Gjevre said.

The goal is to keep more clinics open longer to see more patients, but it falls well short of healthcare changes seen in British Columbia and Alberta in recent months. Last August, B.C. announced sweeping changes to primary care which saw the province ditch the fee-for-service, or pay per visit, system that is common in Canada.

Gjevre and other doctors at the announcement admit the current fee per visit system isn't working. Dr. Carla Holinaty, a family physician who helped negotiate the urgent care funding, said no new graduates coming out of medical school want to be paid per visit with overhead costs limiting what a doctor takes home at the end of the day.

Dr. Adam Ogieglo said he often deals with patients experiencing more complex issues that can't be remedied quickly. If a person presents with chest pains or mini-stroke symptoms he will spend roughly an hour with them, which doesn't match the level of compensation people might expect.

"I'll spend an hour with that patient and I'll earn $44 -- If it's after hours. If it's during business hours, I get $40. That's not adequate. I don't think anyone thinks that family physicians should earn $44 an hour."

A change of family physician compensation and a move to a more team-based care model are the top desires from doctors, who say it will provide the most instant benefits to the healthcare system.

"The longer we wait, we sort of lose that shiny appeal where some physicians would look at Saskatchewan and think 'That's a place I would like to go to,'" Ogieglo said.

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