Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day may day

Keep meaning to write something here but somehow don't get around to it. Been a busy a week.

I am planning to drive to Nova Scotia on May 8. Well, leave here on May 8, spend a couple of days visiting a friend in Ottawa and then another couple of days on the road through Quebec and New Brunswick to arrive in Wolfville on the 12th.

That was the plan. Now up in the air.

I had a warning symptom that things might not be as well as they might and I debated whether to do anything about it now or wait until I got down east to pursue the matter. Called my doctor's office and the earliest I could get an appointment was at the end of May, over a month away (at the time of the call). This is highly frustrating, it's the second time I've tried to get an appointment and the receptionist has told me that there was no way at all to see her in less than a month. I could however drag myself down to the clinic for the two-hour walk-in period and hope that I was one of the lucky five people who got to see a doctor there. I asked if they could tell me of any alternative, such as another walk-in clinic, the answer was No. Unless I wanted to spend a minimum of six hours at Emerge, and since my problem is not an emergency I could count on being triaged to the bottom of the waitlist there.

At the dogpark and my weaving and wood carving classes I started asking folks what doctor they saw and whether that doctor was taking new patients. Got lots of suggestions and everyone seemed confident that their doctor was taking new patients, but when I followed up, none were. I went on the internet and did countless searches for walk-in clinics and doctors taking new patients within a reasonable distance. Nothing. I am sure there are walk-in clinics, but a Google search just doesn't reveal them. There doesn't seem to be one place you can go to for a list of walk-in clinics.

I can't tell you how frustrating this is. The only good news is that my Ontario health insurance card (OHIP card) does entitle me to seek medical care in another province for up to 12 months of being out-of-province. Assuming that there's any other province in the country that has a better supply of GPs than Ontario.

Yesterday I again called about the walk-in clinic, they again warned me about how only the first 5 or 6 people arriving might actually see a doctor, but I went anyway. At the reception desk I started in on how frustrating this was, how everyone else I knew could see their doctor within a few days, so why did I have to wait a month, and why couldn't I just see another doctor at the clinic instead of having to take my chances on the walk-in clinic. They innocently expressed surprise and told me, Sure I could see another doctor if I wanted. That would only be a two week wait.

Then I was really upset. Why the heck couldn't they have told me that on the phone? Why, when I asked if there was any alternative to the walk-in clinic did they tell me No? Then I asked to speak to an administrator. They told me No. I said, So who can I talk to about this very frustrating situation? The receptionist then began to write down what I was saying and said she would pass it on to my doctor, who also happened to be the Director of the clinic. And, if I wanted to, I could tell the walk-in clinic doctor my complaint as well.

Assuming I got to see him at all. I arrived ten minutes before the walk-in clinic started and was number six on the list, so maybe I would, maybe I wouldn't. I waited two hours. The waiting room was full when I arrived, and empty when the doctor finally called my name.

He was very nice and listened to my complaint about the difficulty of getting to see a doctor, he assured me that he would be happy to have me make appointments with him if I couldn't see my own doctor at the clinic. I complained about the lack of information provided by the receptionists, how I didn't even know that I could see another doctor there, my own doctor had led me to believe that things were not done that way and certainly the receptionists had never suggested it even when I asked what the alternatives were.

This doctor ordered up a bunch of tests and did his best to get them all scheduled before my May 8 deadline. I now have an appointment to see him again in a few days. He seems to have a much lighter schedule than my own doctor, I would happily switch to him. Not that I don't like my own doctor, I just can never get near her.

Apparently she is so hard to get to because she has taken on a second job, that of being the Director of the clinic. But they don't make any allowances for her patients, we are expected to wait a month or more to see her. I suppose if you had some kind of chronic condition that required regular visits with the doctor you could manage this by scheduling appointments well in advance, but I usually only go to a doctor when I feel I have no other choice, that I've got a health problem I can't deal with by myself. And that usually means I need to see the doctor sooner rather than later.

I now have a list of appointments to keep over the next few days, but I am not sure if I will be able to get away by May 8. I'll just have to see how it goes. My last appointment is on May 7, but I do not know if I will have to see the doctor again sometime after that.

The state of healthcare here does leave me a little scared though. Trying to find a doctor in Toronto is really really hard. Gretel commented that she had heard there was a shortage, but she thought that any tech-savvy person who could ask around and do internet searches shouldn't have that much difficulty finding a doctor; my experience has surprised her. It's not just Toronto, it's across the country, but some places are worse than others and I think Ontario is particularly difficult. BC is apparently one of the easier places to find a doctor, and coming from there I was sure surprised by how hard it is here. And people I meet here who found a doctor five, ten, twenty years ago have no idea how hard it is now. They have no idea that their own doctor stopped taking new patients years ago.

I have a feeling Nova Scotia is not going to be much better.


Alan G said...

Wow Anne, that's an eye opener. I think most of us living in the US are envious of Canada's healthcare system....perhaps wrongly so to some degree?

There is an ever-increasing number of doctors refusing to take on Medicare patients here in the US. I was thinking about changing doctors at one point just prior to reaching Medicare age, 65, and the doctor's office told me I would have to be registered as a patient prior to going on Medicare or they would not accept me.

Most importantly however, I certainly hope you get your health issues addressed in a timely manner.

Zabetha said...

Hi Alan, Thanks for your concern, so do I!

I don't think our healthcare system is directly to blame for the apparent doctor shortage I am experiencing. I am still grateful that I have low-cost to free heathcare, there are so many ways that that is a huge weight off anyone's shoulders, whether dealing with serious health issues or not. And I can be fairly confident of being able to go to any doctor without worrying if I have the wrong medical insurance for them. For sure there are drawbacks, things that are not covered by our system, and the variability of different provincial systems.

Canada is experiencing a doctor shortage for a number of reasons: decisions taken by provincial governments in the early 1990s to limit medical school enrolment, the CMA's and medical schools' complicity in those decisions, barriers raised to licensing immigrant doctors, increasing retirements, and increasing percentage of female doctors who tend to work fewer hours. Some say that our healthcare system has driven many doctors to practice in the USA but I've also heard that that is not a big factor. Also that being a specialist is more attractive financially than being a GP/family doctor.

Steven said...

This shortage of doctors respects no borders, Anne. Where I live, the 'gold standard' for appointments seems to be 6 weeks. Very frustrating! But, I'm very happy to be in the system and actually have a doctor. Many elders don't.

Barbara Anne said...

Hi Anne,

Sorry that your plans have been made uncertain and I certainly hope you're healthy inside and out so you can set out eastward as soon as possible.

I was surprised to hear of the situation you faced and an shocked that the receptionist in the doctor's office wasn't quick to say you could see one of your doctor's partners if you choose and then tell you when the first available appointment was.

Hope your test results are all normal. I'd suggest you request copies of your test results and take them with you on your trip to NS in case you need to consult a doctor while there.

How long do you plan to be away?


Zabetha said...

Hi Steven, I guess no one wants to be a GP anymore! Don't blame them when the money is obviously elsewhere...

Hi Barbara Anne, I think the receptionists at this health centre say what they are trained to say, and it's time they got trained differently! I hope my complaints in that regard will have some effect. Good advice about the test results.

Hugs to you,