May 15, 2024

SMA/SCFP op-ed: Patient care our top priority as change coming to family medicine

By Drs. Andre Grobler and Andries Muller

As family physicians leading our respective organizations, we know that commemorating World Family Doctor Day on May 19, 2024, resonates with our colleagues in medicine. We hope it resonates with all citizens of Saskatchewan.

Today — and every day — we stand together with our patients to honour our family physicians, the cornerstone of our health care system. A robust primary health care system, where patients have access to collaborative care led by a family physician, is essential for high-functioning health systems.

The advancement of family physician-led, team-based care in Saskatchewan is a critical component of the new agreement recently negotiated between the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) and the Ministry of Health. The agreement contains shared commitments from physicians and the government alike to address challenges in family medicine, including a lack of family physicians, recruitment, and retention. It puts family physicians here on a competitive footing with our counterparts across the country, which is a significant achievement.

Family physicians told the SMA during negotiations that they needed new investments that support family physician-led, team-based care. We asked for this because we know our patients sometimes need more from us than we can offer under the current model. We care deeply about our patients and want to provide the best possible care. This agreement advances the much-discussed concept of team-based care beyond the abstract and into reality.

As family physicians, with the support of a new payment model, we can adapt our practices and lead allied health care professionals as a team that can provide the right care, by the right provider, at the right time. This will free us to spend more time with those patients who have more complex needs. We got into family medicine to serve our patients to the best of our abilities – not to worry about overhead costs and be overwhelmed by paperwork at the end of a long day.

Change won’t happen overnight, but on Sunday, May 19 – World Family Doctor Day – we will take time to reflect on the fact that while change is coming, patient care will continue to be our number one priority.

Implementing these changes will take many years, requiring the overhaul of existing systems and building of new ones. We ask for patience as the health system starts to move in a direction that is more focused on better patient access and care.

That is for the future. What we can all do on May 19 is take some time to say thanks to our family physicians and celebrate all that they do for us.

Dr. Andre Grobler is president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association. Dr. Andries Muller is president of the Saskatchewan College of Family Physicians.

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