Doctor Shortage? Navigating a Lack of Care – and Information
You probably have a friend who’s been relying on walk-in clinics for years, because they can’t seem to find a doctor that is taking new patients. Or maybe you are part of the 15% of Canadians who don’t have a regular family doctor. So why and where is this going wrong, and what can we do about it?
An average of about 388 patients per doctor
A quick look at the numbers reveals the problem. Take British Columbia, for example. The Canadian Medical Association lists 11,600 licensed physicians throughout the province to serve its population of about 4.5 million. That’s an average of about 388 patients per doctor. Physicians average about 33 hours per week of direct patient care (excluding paper work, education or research), which would allow them to see each patient every 3 months. That may seem reasonable, if all you need is a yearly check-up. But consider patients with additional needs who require frequent visits, as well as the distribution of urban versus rural population density, and you can begin to see how the system gets strained. Factor in a rapidly aging general practitioners (GP) population (about 40% of GPs are near or at the age of retirement), and the problem doesn’t look to be getting any better. It’s enough to make anyone throw up their hands and hope their vitamin supplements will be enough.
Valerie turned to her insurance provider for help
So how do we navigate this complex world? Delta, BC resident Valerie Lee may have found a solution. The new immigrant moved to Surrey with her family 8 months ago. “I had heard about the doctor shortage before I came,” said Lee, “but I never imagined it would be so difficult.” After several months of fruitless searching, Lee turned to her insurance provider for help. “I didn’t think they’d be much help, but I was really at my wit’s end,” she said. “I didn’t know where else to turn.”
She was provided with a list of physicians in her area
As luck would have it, Lee’s insurance company was partnered with Health Navigator, a built-in health information services provider. Her request was directed to one of their experienced health information specialist, who provided her with a list of physicians in her area that were accepting new patients. They also helped her out with information about how to choose a physician to suit her family’s needs. “Just having that information really helped point me in the right direction,” she says.
Having a family doctor allows Canadians to have a centralised record of their health journey, which helps catch anomalies or inconsistencies that could be a sign of more serious issues. In British Columbia alone, nearly 700,000 people do not have a regular family doctor. This means that they are likely only to visit a walk-in clinic or hospital emergency room for immediate medical needs, and will be unlikely to get general well-being check-ups and preventive care. The result of this could be that warning signs of more serious health issues may not be caught early, causing an adverse affect on both the individual patient and the health care system itself.
“Just Google It”
In the age of “Just Google It”, services like Health Navigator, which provide directed, researched and expert information, are the future for people navigating the complexities of the health care world. People like Valerie, who brought her children to their first check-up just last week. “They couldn’t fix the system,” she laughs, “but they certainly helped me carve a path.”
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