So let it be written…
I am fortunate to have a good family doctor. He is competent, caring, and when I have an appointment, he takes time to listen to me and consider the best course of action. I don’t get shunted out of his office like I’m just another ear tag in the cattle line.
In other words, I have no complaint with him. But securing an appointment with my doctor can be downright stressful, as the competition to see him is fierce.
It starts the second the clinic opens, early in the morning. I call the clinic, get a machine or busy signal, hit redial and repeat until I get through, to hopefully secure a coveted appointment for that day. Often within minutes he’s booked up.
I know other patients have to be performing the same ritual. It’s kind of like dialing up a morning radio show, hoping you get through for a chance to win the big prize.
But let’s say you get lucky and score an appointment. Maybe then you’re sent to a medical lab for a test.
Negotiating this can also be stressful. I think back upon arriving at LifeLabs on a Saturday morning, before the office opened at 7 o’clock. It was still dark outside. When I stepped out of the elevator, 13 people were already lined up in the hallway in front of me.
A bunch of people arrived right behind me, and that snaking line soon became more like an anaconda than a garter snake. The place should be called LineLabs.
Frustrating as it was for the patients in queue, I can only imagine what it must be like for the lab employees who arrive at work in the morning, coffee cup in hand, to a huge lineup of anxious clients. If I came to work every day with 30 or 40 people waiting to speak with me before I even got to my desk, I think I’d go mad. Well, madder than I already am, anyway.
Something’s gotta give here.
The last time a doctor made a house call on my behalf was when I was a teenager living in North Delta. I am now 50 years old.
Conversely, just a few years ago when we were last in Guatemala, my wife’s native country, I got sick — no big deal, just a flu — and they called a doctor. Bam! He was at the house, medical bag in hand, within the hour. And the service was exceptional.
Guatemala City’s population, I might add, is roughly 3,354,000 whereas the population of Metro Vancouver is 2,513,000.
The Central American city has a much higher population density than we do here and yet doctors there gladly make house calls within the hour, while trying to see a doctor up here — at their clinic, mind you — can be quite the adventure.
Who’s the Third World country, eh? Makes you wonder.
Again, I consider myself fortunate to actually have a family doctor, scheduling aggravations or no. In 2013 B.C.’s provincial government launched a $132-million initiative called A GP for Me, to address the shortage of doctors here.
By the end of that year, roughly 200,000 British Columbians did not have a family doctor and there was no significant change in 2014 either. The numbers aren’t yet in for 2015.
Some headway has been made in White Rock and South Surrey, where the program has found doctors for 12,000 residents who didn’t have one. In Surrey and North Delta, 15,000 residents were actively looking for a family doctor in 2013-14 but it’s hoped the next evaluation will reveal some improvement. As it now stands, while 14 new doctors have since set up practice here, Surrey is still growing by roughly 1,200 new residents per month, and 27 per cent of our local doctors are expected to retire in the next nine years.
It is encouraging they are trying to fix this but it remains abundantly clear that, whether you have a family doctor or not, the availability of prompt medical service has not kept up with population growth. Unless this improves, long lineups and fevered phone calling for appointments will continue to be the norm.
That said, still I wonder why we can’t do what’s done in Guatemala, with its higher population density.
Clearly, our medical system needs a serious booster shot of efficiency, in both arms.
Is there a quick fix?
Don’t hold your breath too long. You might need to see a doctor for that, and you could be in for a long wait…
So let it be done.
Tom Zytaruk is a staff writer with the Now. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org