Saturday, 11 May 2024 09:50

Crisis in healthcare access - Canada

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Around six million Canadians currently do not have a family doctor, reflecting a significant issue in the country's healthcare access. Despite various provinces implementing centralized waiting lists to match patients with available physicians, many remain unattended for extended periods. Dr. Mike Green, President of the College of Family Physicians of Canada and a practitioner in Kingston, Ontario, highlights the disparity in wait times across different regions, noting that some patients have been on the waiting list for years.

Waitlist woes and regional disparities

Ontario, one of the provinces severely affected, reports an average wait time of 90 days to connect a patient with a family doctor through the Health Care Connect system. However, this average masks the longer waits endured by many, particularly in more remote areas. Over 44,000 people managed to find a primary care provider in 2022 through this system, yet nearly 200,000 Ontarians are currently on this list. Dr. Green is investigating the efficiency of these waiting lists and notes that the situation is exacerbated by intra - provincial mobility restrictions that prevent patients from re - registering if they move cities without leaving their current doctor's practice.

In British Columbia, efforts to address this shortage included the launch of a new online system in April, designed to facilitate the registration and matching process. Nevertheless, close to 900,000 people in B.C. still lacked a family doctor as of last year. Nova Scotia reported more than 150,000 people on its waitlist as of early this year, with approximately 15,000 having waited for more than three years.

Systemic challenges and potential solutions

Despite the theoretical benefits of centralized waiting lists, the actual impact remains limited. Dr. David Barber, chair of the section on general and family practice at the Ontario Medical Association, criticizes the system's bureaucratic nature, which often results in a tedious back - and - forth process without successful doctor - patient matchmaking. He emphasizes the underlying issue of a nationwide doctor shortage, arguing that no waiting list can compensate for the absence of available doctors.

Dr. Mylaine Breton from the University of Sherbrooke suggests that while waiting lists in Quebec do eventually connect patients to doctors, the process is far from efficient, with waits extending up to several years. She advocates for a prioritization mechanism on these lists, particularly for vulnerable patients who need urgent care. Dr. Tara Kiran from St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto points out that the accessibility and effectiveness of these lists vary widely. She stresses the need for a better-structured system that ensures vulnerable groups, including those with chronic conditions or language barriers, can access these services more effectively.

A call for comprehensive reforms

The ongoing issue of doctor shortages and inefficient waitlist management calls for a comprehensive review and reform of how healthcare services are allocated and accessed in Canada. While centralized lists offer a potential solution, their implementation and the structures supporting them need significant improvement to meet the needs of all Canadians effectively. As the healthcare system struggles to keep pace with demand, the development of more effective strategies and the introduction of incentives for healthcare providers are crucial steps toward resolving this critical issue.

Source: CBC


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