Assistant Deputy Minister for Medical Services Stephen Brown, PhD, the MOH official who oversees physician compensation, admits that the issue of the threatened walkout was “a bit of a surprise” to him because the government had just signed the Letter of Agreement with the BCMA. He became engaged with the health authorities and the hospitalists, “trying to understand how we got to where we were when we had just signed an agreement.”
Although hospitalists felt the Letter of Agreement did not address their concerns, Brown did not characterize the talks with the various stakeholders as negotiations. “I acknowledged that we were trying to understand the issues they were presenting and how we could address those issues within the context of the BCMA-government negotiated agreement,” he said during a telephone interview.
“Over the period of a couple weeks of dialogue, we got to a tentative agreement—which hopefully will now translate into contracts over the next week—that is within the framework of the Agreement.”
Key figures involved in the talks expressed satisfaction with some of the goals achieved. Dr. Wilton reflects that the dispute has resulted in more public awareness of the presence of hospitalists and more awareness of hospitalists’ value within the BCMA. Most importantly, he says, “we sat across the table from some of the senior administrators in the Ministry of Health and were able to educate them about the values that hospitalists can bring to the system. We’re hoping that by having the opportunity to educate them, they will take a more proactive and organized approach to supporting the hospitalist model of care and utilizing it to its full potential.”
“I wasn’t thrilled that we were in this situation,” says Brown. “But the positive that’s come out of it is that I think we’ve got a platform, we’ve got a dialogue, and we have committed to work with them over the next six months to look at workload and see if we can get some level of consistency on that.”
Brown indicated that he had acquired more understanding of how hospitalists’ roles have evolved in the province and the difficulties they encounter to provide quality care. “The reality of what we found was that regions had developed hospitalist services in slightly different ways, with slightly different compensation arrangements,” he noted. “I hope what we have just done is we have now created the same platform for all the hospitalists across the province. They’re going to have a contract that looks similar and dialogue is now underway with the HAs [health authorities] about the range of services that hospitalists will provide. So I think that’s an opportunity as well, over the next six months now, to clean that up.”
While hospitalists gained some traction on the development of new workload standards, they did not fully accomplish their financial goals, the two key negotiators said. According to Dr. DeMott, “We became lost in a complex political and economic struggle that involved all of the doctors in the province. The doctors had recently ratified an agreement that left us completely out in the cold. In the end, we had to comply with the essential terms of that [BCMA-negotiated Letter of Agreement].”
To have insisted on the hospitalists’ financial goals, he says, would have injured too many programs, and—if they had walked off the job—ultimately would have compromised patient care. “In the end,” says Dr. DeMott, “we acquiesced and came up with a compromise that should work for the short term.”
Parallels with the United States?
Many of those interviewed for this article observed that hospitalist programs in British Columbia are still evolving, and that U.S. hospitalist programs are probably five years ahead in terms of established program models. Dr. DeMott praises the pioneering work done by SHM: “We look to you for guidance, and we really do appreciate the SHM advancement that is moving the hospitalist profession along.”