'We don't feel valued': Doctors sound alarm over virtual visit billing rate
EDMONTON -- With social distancing requirements, waiting rooms at most doctors’ offices are eerily quiet, and Willow Family Medicine Centre is no exception.
Now, Dr. Tannis Spenser spends most of her day treating patients over video or phone calls.
“Our patients will continue to have their usual medical health concerns that they need to see their family doctor for,” she said on Friday.
Physicians were recently approved to use virtual methods, but it's meant a 50 percent pay cut.
“No small business, family practices included, can function with a 50 per cent loss. It’s not going to happen.”
Doctors get $38 per patient for a 10 minute in-office visit and extra if it runs longer. For virtual visits its $20 per patient no matter how long it lasts.
The director of the clinic says it means having to make tough choices.
“I have to pay for the lights, I have to pay my staff,” said Dr. Kelly MacGregor, Director of Willow Family Medicine Clinic. “I’m okay if I don’t make anything right now, I’ll be okay, but I don’t want to lay all my staff off.”
Another concern is a new app launched by TELUS, giving Albertans access to doctors online.
“Babylon was never meant to be free, it’s a private industry and that’s my worry if you don’t pay doctors right now to do the work that we can already do, we’re not going to be around when COVID’s done,” said MacGregor.
TELUS maintains Babylon is and has always been free in Alberta.
MacGregor says her clinic is one of many across the province that may not survive the pandemic.
“When those clinics close they’re not going to re-open.”
“We don’t feel valued. I’m genuinely hoping that this is an oversight,” Spenser said.
Late Friday afternoon, a spokesperson from the Alberta ministry of health told CTV News changes to the telehealth compensation are coming to make them more comparable to in-office rates.
The billing issues should be addressed in the coming days.
With files from CTV News Calgary's Timm Bruch.