Strengthening health care: improving access for all 

Primary health care is the first point of contact Albertans have with the health care system, and includes health professionals such as family doctors, nurse practitioners and pharmacists.

Last fall, health care leaders, Indigenous partners and experts from across Canada and around the world came together to form advisory panels as part of the Modernizing Alberta’s Primary Health Care System (MAPS) initiative. The panels identified immediate, medium- and long-term improvements to strengthen Alberta’s primary health care system.

Alberta’s government will begin moving forward on the recommendations in the final report to improve access to primary health care for all Albertans. The recommendations will be implemented through a phased approach, with several moving forward immediately, followed by medium- and longer-term improvements that will enhance community-based primary health care across Alberta.

“Today marks an important step in the work I am undertaking to enhance primary care as the foundation of our health care system. The Modernizing Alberta’s Primary Health Care System (MAPS) reports clearly identify the challenges our system is facing, and their release signals this government’s commitment to take immediate and ongoing action to support and stabilize primary health care in our province. I look forward to the ongoing work of implementing needed changes with our health care partners and providers.”Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Health

Several immediate actions are being taken, all of which are consistent with recommendations from the panels. These actions are critical to ensuring Albertans have better access to health care when and where they need it. Alberta Health continues to work toward implementing recommendations over the medium and long term.

“The MAPS recommendations represent a huge leap forward for our primary health system – strengthening and clarifying governance, community involvement, and recognizing the importance of integrated team-based care that allows Albertans to access primary care from the most appropriate team member at the right time, in the right place. This is how we can ensure equitable access to care across our province.”Dr. Janet Reynolds, co-chair, MAPS strategic advisory panel

Strengthening primary health care

Alberta’s government is acting immediately on recommendations to improve primary health care and increase Albertans’ access to the medical care they need, including:

  • Creating a primary health care division within Alberta Health.  
  • Allocating $57 million over three years to provide family doctors and nurse practitioners with support to help manage their increasing number of patients. Each provider has the potential to receive up to $10,000 annually.
  • Working with the Alberta Medical Association to create a task force to recommend a new payment model for family physicians that encourages comprehensive primary care – where a patient has a regular family doctor who they develop a long-term relationship with and who works with them to ensure all their health care needs are met.
  • Developing a memorandum of understanding with the Alberta Medical Association to collaborate on a transition to a new physician compensation model, modernize primary care governance and enable family doctors to spend more time with patients and less time on paperwork and immediately stabilize primary care.
  • Expanding online mental health services, allowing doctors to bill for virtual mental health checks and therapy, and compensating them for extra time spent with patients virtually.
  • Ensuring doctors get paid if patients can’t prove insurance coverage, reducing administrative burden. This is known as “good faith” claims.
  • Introducing a payment system that will support nurse practitioners to open their own clinics, take on patients and offer services based on their scope of practice, training and expertise. Nurse practitioners have completed graduate studies ensuring that they are properly trained to examine patients, provide diagnoses and prescribe medication.

“We know that a strong primary health care system is foundational for better health care for Albertans, and that starts with access to a family physician and a team of dedicated providers. Primary care requires dedicated planning, resourcing and coordination. We are pleased to join the task force and believe continued collaboration and immediate action will bring us closer to our collective vision.”Dr. Noel DaCunha, president, Alberta College of Family Physicians

“The Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta is elated to see the newly released MAPs report, which provides direction for primary care reform and includes the full integration of nurse practitioners. The Government of Alberta is taking a significant and essential step in improving access to primary care for Albertans. This announcement is a win-win for Albertans and nurse practitioners, as it recognizes the valuable contributions of NPs delivering high-quality care for Albertans and their ability to decrease the stress on the health care system. We are excited about the future of primary care in Alberta.”Dr. Susan Prendergast, president, Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta

“These actions are welcome news for rural Alberta. Ensuring Albertans have access to health care professionals when and where they need it is essential. This work will help to solve some of the unique challenges for rural Albertans by encouraging health professions to practise in rural parts of the province.”Martin Long, parliamentary secretary for rural health

Strengthening Indigenous health care

Indigenous Peoples face many barriers to access appropriate health care. To support better health outcomes, the government will build more meaningful connections with Indigenous leaders and communities to identify improvements that reflect the unique nature of their communities. Immediate actions include:

  • Creating an Indigenous health division within Alberta Health.  
  • Creating a $20-million fund for Indigenous communities to design and deliver innovative primary health care services and projects.
  • Creating an Indigenous patient complaints investigator and Elders roster to investigate incidences of racism during the delivery of health care and provide culturally safe support to Indigenous patients throughout the patient complaint process.
  • Investing in a community-based Indigenous patient navigator program to support Indigenous peoples throughout their health care journey.

“It is unacceptable that Indigenous Peoples continue to face so many barriers when accessing primary health care. It is crucial that all First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples have equitable access to community-based primary health care that is culturally safe, respects their unique needs and is free of racism. These immediate actions will help us achieve that goal.”    Rick Wilson, Minister of Indigenous Relations

“The panel’s recommendations provide a clear and stable pathway to create a safe, culturally appropriate primary health care system that includes Indigenous people as partners and leaders at every stage of the development, governance and delivery of health care services. The best solutions exist within our respective communities, tailored for our unique needs and priorities. The commitments made today are an important first step toward improving health equity for Indigenous Peoples, regardless of where they live in Alberta.”Naa Taoyi Piita Wo Taan, Dr. Tyler White, CEO, Siksika Health Services and co-chair, MAPS Indigenous Primary Health Care Advisory Panel

Quick facts
  • Advisory panels were established through MAPS in fall 2022 to identify primary health care improvements in the short term and over the next 10 years.
  • Final reports from the panels were submitted in spring 2023.
  • The strategic advisory panel final report contains 11 recommendations to refocus the system around primary health care with an emphasis on:
    • access to team-based care
    • integration between primary health care and community care
    • a foundation of a coordinated and accountable primary health care system
  • The Indigenous advisory panel final report contains 22 recommendations under five themes:
    • improve health equity for Indigenous Peoples
    • address Indigenous racism in health care
    • build culturally safer primary health care and an Indigenous workforce
    • create system innovation and support community capacity
    • Indigenous ownership, stewardship, design and delivery of health care services
  • Budget 2023 allocated $125 million over three years to implement recommendations from MAPS.
  • The next step will be to further engage with health care partners, including Indigenous communities, to implement these immediate priorities and the broader MAPS recommendations.
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