Performance & Quality
B.C. has the longest walk-in clinic wait times
August 10, 2022
VANCOUVER – According to Medimap, a medical mapping service, wait times for walk-in clinics across Canada were highest in British Columbia last year. And the vice-president of operations for Medimap says the situation is only getting worse. Teddy Wickland (pictured) says the 2021 report showed average wait times in B.C. at 58 minutes. Early data in 2022 shows those numbers more in the 70- to 75-minute range.
“About half of all the clinics in B.C. are closing early, so they’re reaching that fee threshold a lot sooner,” said Wickland, referring to the maximum patient number per physician allowed under the Medical Services Plan. Once a doctor reaches that limit, MSP pays them less for any subsequent visit that day then, at a higher threshold, nothing at all.
“So that obviously creates even more strain on the system; if you’re not one of those people who is lucky enough to go to a walk-in clinic and get seen at the beginning of the day, if you’re trying to go after work, the clinic’s already closed,” he told the Vancouver Sun.
Wickland says the limits were put in place with good intentions, to ensure that doctors had time to give patients adequate care, but they’ve become a barrier to access and might need to go up. “There’s a lot of people not getting care and that’s not good for anybody.”
What’s more, Wickland says the sheer number of walk-in clinics in the system is declining quickly. He says when Medimap did the 2021 report, they were working with about 300 clinics in B.C. That number has already dropped to about 250.
Wickland says there are a lot of reasons for the drop in walk-ins: Many doctors are hitting retirement age, not enough are going into family medicine to replace them, while others are burned out and moving away from general practice into specialties or out of healthcare altogether.
Medimap serves thousands of clinics across the country, with about 70 percent of all Canadian clinics in their system. The roots of the relatively new company, however, are deeper in B.C., and Wickland estimates they work with roughly 90 percent of walk-ins in this province.
Medimap provides clinics and patients with real-time estimates for how long it will take to see a doctor. While waits were also high on the east coast, B.C.’s 2021 average of just under an hour was easily the worst in the country, and an increase of 15 minutes since 2019.
The waits in B.C. are more than double the national average of 25 minutes, and a far cry from Ontario, at 15 minutes, and Alberta at 18. What’s worse, wait times generally went down in the other provinces in 2021 data compared with 2019, but jumped here in B.C.
“Six of the top 10 cities with the longest average wait times across Canada were located in British Columbia,” said Medimap spokesman Paul Clarke. Victoria recorded the longest, at 161 minutes or just over 2.5 hours. “Kelowna, White Rock, North Vancouver and Vancouver also recorded average wait times that were 60 minutes or longer,” he said.
Coquitlam was a happy outlier in the Lower Mainland, with the shortest wait time in B.C. at only 13 minutes in 2021.
Wickland says Medimap’s technology can help patients find a spot, but can’t on its own solve the problem of a general lack of capacity in the healthcare system. “We’re trying to create more transparency in a very opaque system,” he says. “As a patient, it’s very hard to know ‘where do I go, can I be seen?’ So we’re trying to solve that.
“But at the end of the day, if there aren’t places to go, that needs to be solved on its own in a different way.”
One caveat about the data: It only tracks those clinics signed up with Medimap, which doesn’t yet operate in Quebec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, P.E.I. or the territories.
Wickland says the private company plans to expand nationwide and is also moving into providing bookings and wait-time data for allied health services like chiropractors and eye clinics. A worldwide expansion is also in Medimap’s plans for the future.