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To help ensure all Albertans have access to the physician services they need, implementation of a portion of Bill 21, the Ensuring Fiscal Sustainability Act, 2019, has been delayed.

Changes in Bill 21 will adjust billing systems to start matching new physician supply with demand. New physicians will only be able to bill the government for delivering insured services if they practice in locations with an identified need. This will include rural and remote areas, as well as underserved urban areas.

Originally planned for implementation on April 1, 2022, the practitioner identification system will now be implemented 'on proclamation' of the legislative amendments.

Changing the firm date from April 1, 2022 to ‘on proclamation’ will allow for consultations with the medical community, including the Alberta Medical Association, to develop regulations on the new system and the best possible implementation plan.

Delaying the implementation means new physicians graduating in 2022 will not be subject to new restrictions to start their practice in Alberta.

We will continue to work with communities and experts to identify physician needs in geographic areas throughout Alberta by looking at factors such as population, physician utilization and disease prevalence data.

The goal is to ensure all Albertans have equitable access to physicians no matter where they live.

Physician supply

Over the past 15 years, the number of physicians in Alberta has grown at more than twice the rate of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. In recent years however, growth is slowing.

In 2020, Alberta had 11,197 physicians, or 252 physicians per 100,000 population, compared to 5,154 physicians, or 167 per 100,000 population in 2001. Nationally, the number of physicians per 100,000 population grew from 188 to 242 in the same period. Source: Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI).

Physician distribution

Despite growth in the number of physicians in Alberta, physician service shortages continue in rural and remote areas of the province as well as in some underserved urban areas. There is significant variation in the number of primary care physicians per 100,000 population across Alberta and misalignment with population health needs.

Between 2016 and 2020, the number of doctors in urban Alberta rose by approximately 9%, but the number of doctors in rural Alberta rose by 1%.

In 2020, the total number of physicians practicing in rural Alberta was 752, accounting for 6.7% of all physicians in Alberta. Source: CIHI.

Where physicians are - and where we need them. In 2020, the number of physicians practicing in rural Alberta was 752, which accounted for 6.7% of all physicians in Alberta (down 4% from 2019). Alberta has structural imbalance between where physicians are and where they're needed.

Physician education

Alberta has 2 medical schools offering high quality medical education and training. Alberta Health’s 2021-22 budget offers approximately $170 million for (postgraduate) resident physicians’ medical education and compensation for providing health services.

There are currently 1,647 ministry-funded medical resident physicians in Alberta; 818 at the University of Alberta and 829 at the University of Calgary.

In 2021-22, there were 199 first-year, government-funded resident physicians at the University of Alberta and 198 at the University of Calgary. Approximately 75% of resident physicians remain in Alberta to practice after completing their postgraduate education.

Rural physician recruitment and retention initiatives

Improving access to care in rural communities and other underserved areas is a priority for government.

Alberta Health’s 2020-21 budget provided approximately $90 million to address the distribution of physicians through financial incentives, attraction and retention initiatives and rural medical education programs, including:

  • Rural Remote Northern Program (RRNP) – provides direct financial incentives to physicians who live and practice in underserviced communities.
  • Rural Health Professions Action Plan (RhPAP) – works with communities to enhance the attraction and retention of health professionals for rural practice.
  • Rural Medical Education programs – support medical students and residents’ experience with rural health care, with the goal of increasing interest in, and ultimately choosing a rural medicine career path.
  • Physician Locum Service Program – ensures that communities with four or fewer physicians have access to continuous medical coverage if a physician is unable to provide services due to short-term absences.
  • Rural On-Call Program – provides remuneration to physicians providing emergency on-call services at eligible facilities in rural areas.

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