Recently I read a US article talking about how some politicians in Washington DC met with Canadian reps and asked supposedly 'tough questions' about our healthcare system up here. Apparently they were intrigued with how it works, seeing as a similar system may be forced into place there in the near future. One of the 'tough questions' I read was "Is it true that no one in Canada can get a family doctor?". The answer was "No, that is not true".
What the hell kind of question was that?? Of course it's not true that NO ONE can get a family doc! But the followup question should have been "How many Canadians do not have a family doctor?" and an analysis of how many of those WANT one, but cannot FIND one. But of course, those questions were not asked - at least not according to the articles I read.
So here I am reading Friday's local paper when I come across something in the Letters to the Editor section... an elderly resident who's family doc retired is asking for help. He cannot find a replacement doc and needs to have a regular health professional to ensure his ongoing health. So he is advertising in the paper . This is what we deal with here on a regular basis. No in-town regular docs have been listed as taking new patients for at least 4 years. I have spoken about this regularly on my blog. I know what doc is retiring and have known for over 3 months that he was leaving, even though he is at least 20 years before retirement age and has thousands of patients. I really feel for him - making this decision must not have been easy after how many years he put into his education and his patients. He was my family doc from 1998-2001 when I moved out of province and I grew up with his siblings. His father was a doctor as well, until his death a few years ago. So this must not have been an easy decision... and now his patients are in limbo unless they luck out by writing to the Medicine Hat News and advertise for a doc. I hope someone has contacted that man by now, but I can guarantee you that there are still hundreds if not thousands of other residents who have been without family docs for years now. My mom is one of them.
This is, again, what I have been trying to portray to my neighbours south of the border - things are NOT perfect up here. I have friends in Ontario who have had problems for years, including having to wait 12 months to see an allergy specialist in Toronto for an INFANT. A little boy who needed to be tested for asthma when he was less than a year old, but he did not get his test for a YEAR. He could have died in that time if he had an attack. That is what also goes on up here, behind the rosey exterior of 'free' care. Everything 'free' comes at a price in one way or another and people need to realize that.
Here is the text from the article in case the link gets archived:
Doc's retirement shocks patients
I am 76 years old and in reasonably good health. I stay away from doctors as much as possible. Over my many years, the odd broken bone drove me to see a doctor. Otherwise, I leave them alone to tend to folks who need it. I make one appointment every October to get my prescription renewed for blood pressure pills. That's it.
Recently I had a problem that needed medical advice. I called my doctor's office for an appointment and much to my amazement, the receptionist told me my skilled, personable, young doctor for the past 10 years had retired as of July 1. Wow, you could have knocked me over with a feather! There was, to my knowledge, no notice given to the hundreds of patients I'm sure he treated. My first thought was for him. Did he suffer from some serious illness? I hope not; folks like him are hard to find.
I asked the receptionist if my file was referred to another doctor. "No," was the cold, professional answer. She said, "You are on your own. Try phoning." I guess she meant start with the A's and end with the Z's. I did say, tongue in cheek, I feel like a sack of garbage dropped by the side of the road. She did not reply.
I was told by someone who should know (a pharmacist) that no Medicine Hat doctors are accepting new patients. I am well aware that many folks use the walk-in clinics or the hospital emergency facility. However, having had a family doctor all my life, I would prefer, if possible, to have a doctor you can get to know and rely on.
I am writing this letter for two reasons: First, I feel that Medicine Hat residents should be aware that we have lost a valued doctor. You should not find out when you try to make an appointment. Second, I appeal to any physician that could squeeze in another patient to have his or her receptionist please contact me.
It's difficult to find good info on how many Canadians are without a family doc, and how many of those are trying (as opposed to those who don't have one by choice), but there are some articles around.
- one stating that over 3 million Canadians in 2004 did not have a doc, 1 million of those had searched (pdf) - 2004
- another article from 2004 that says 5 million Canadians do not have a family doc
- 2008 article stating over 4 million without care
- 2009 article stating 5 million
So as you can see, it's quite difficult and then you have to sort through who is actually trying to find a doc, and who isn't (keeping in mind that one day those people WILL need a doc and probably won't be able to find one). Canada's population is a lot smaller than the US so anyone reading this who is unaware, these numbers are around 10% of Canadians without a fam doc. Maybe it's 5% who are looking, but the other 5% still won't be able to get one if they try eventually so it's all the same to me!