Delivery models of rural surgical services in BC (1996-2005)

Objective: To define the models of surgical service delivery in rural communities that rely solely on general practitioner (GP)–surgeons for emergency care, to examine how they have changed over the past decade and to identify some effects on communities that have lost their local surgical program.

Methods: We undertook a retrospective study using the Population Utilization Rates and Referrals For Easy Comparative Tables database (versions 6.0 and 9.0) and telephone interviews to hospitals that we identified. We included all hospitals in rural British Columbia with surgical programs that had no resi- dent specialist surgeon and that relied on general practitioner–surgeons (GP-surgeons) for emergency surgical care. We examined surgical program characteristics, community size, distance from referral cen- tre, role of itinerant surgery, where GPs were trained, their age and years of experience and referral rates for appendectomies and obstetrics. 

Results: Changes over the past decade include a decrease in the to- tal number of GP-surgeons operating in these communities, more itinerant surgery and the loss of 3 of 12 programs. GP-surgeons are older, are usually foreign-trained and have more than 5 years of experi- ence. Communities with no local program or that rely on solo practitioners refer more emergencies out of the community and do less maternity care than those with more than a single GP-surgeon.

Conclusion: GP-surgeons still play an integral role in the provision of emergency and elective surgical services in rural communities without the population base to sustain resident specialist surgeons. As GP- surgeons retire and surgical programs close, there is no accredited training program to replace them. More outcome comparisons between procedures performed by GP-surgeons and general surgeons are needed, as is the creation of a nationally accredited training program to replace these practitioners as they retire.

Delivery models of rural surgical services in BC (1996-2005) – are general practitioner-surgeons still part of the picture (Humber and Frecker 2008)