The "Business" of Medicine
When I was young I knew I wanted to be a doctor. The picture I had in my head was that of the typical family doctor-- nice clinic, friendly secretary, breezing in and out of patient rooms with a smile. By the time I started medical school, the only specialty that I knew I didn't want to practice was family medicine. Okay, maybe not the ONLY one, but I definitely wasn't into it. Why? Because I don't want to run a business. Ever.
Family medicine is a business. As a family doctor, you are a small business owner. Regardless of what fee schedule you follow, you have to consider your overhead. This includes office rental, cost of permanent equipment (like examining tables, otoscopes, computers), cost of disposable equipment (urinalysis sticks, gloves, disposible speculums), office supplies, office staff (a medical receptionist/office manager and possibly a nurse)... I could go on, but you get the sitch.
A study done a few years back asked a few hundred Canadians what they thought their doctor got paid for an office visit. The answers were hugely variable... the average was around $100, but the guesses ranged from $50 to $500 and up. What does your doctor really get for an office visit? Well, if it was a typical visit that reviews two or more body systems and examined or reviews more than one problem, the doctor bills $29.20. Yup. That's it. And you wonder why you're rushed out of the office. If it was just for a single problem that was pretty straightforward (like a prescription refill) your doctor bills $17.75.
But your family doctor won't necessarily see that money. Claims are rejected for lots of reasons... if you forgot your health card, or didn't tell the doctor that you got a new card (the new one will have a different version code), the money doesn't come. If there is any missing or questionable information on the claim form (let's hope you have a really good billing company or secretary so this doesn't happen often) the claim is denied. If it's for a form or a WSIB injury, your doctor can't bill and has to get paid directly from the patient. Doctors aren't bill collectors-- many give up if the bill isn't paid promptly.
Now I'm getting boring, but these are all things that eat into the average doctor's salary. A recent article by The Walrus explored the rare breed of medical practitioner known as the family doctor:
Visit any medical school in Canada and ask, "Who plans to practise family medicine?" and too few hands will go up. Having competed with thousands to get into these prestigious schools, and already deeply in debt, most of these ambitious young adults feel they cannot afford to become family doctors in Canada. Without fringe benefits, and after the expenses of renting a clinic, paying for receptionists and nurses, and buying equipment and supplies, a family doctor working forty-hour weeks could expect to take home roughly the salary of a union plumber, auto worker, or skilled bricklayer (around $70,000). This, after at least 7 years of university, with medical school costing $15,000 a year in tuition alone.
Sad, isn't it?
Labels: family medicine