Walk-in health clinics not enough for Canadians

by | Mar 28, 2014 | Opinion

Kait Morris
Business & Technology Editor

Kait Morris

Kait Morris

In early December last year, I found myself in a position many students do: I was sick. It’s not

unusual, campuses and subways are veritable germ pits. But after three weeks of persistent weakness, vomiting and dizziness, I decided to suck it up and go to a clinic.

I’m not from Toronto, and don’t have a family doctor here, or back home in North Bay, a city of about 53,500 people.

The clinic prescribed me a $300 anti-nausea drug and sent me on my way with a promise to call with test results. The call never came. Two weeks later I was jaundiced in a North Bay hospital and informed within eight hours I had mononucleosis (commonly known as mono) and it was affecting my liver and spleen.

Coordinating any type of appointment, medications or other medical care is very difficult when you don’t have a general practitioner. Arduous

Recently, my stepfather, who also lives in North Bay, had a heart attack. Despite having a heart surgeon and specialists in Sudbury, he didn’t have a general practitioner to help co-ordinate care back home. Getting referrals and coordinating aftercare can be very difficult for a patient to manage on their own.

In September, The Globe and Mail published an article stating the number of doctors in Canada is on the rise. It reported about 4.4 million Canadians don’t have a doctor, and many of them are happy going to drop-in clinics.

I would argue they are happy going to clinics until something serious occurs.

Persistent cough on a Saturday? Clinic. High fever after hours? Clinic.

But what happens when that high fever turns into a more persistent illness and you wind up in the hospital? What if it’s a prelude to a more serious condition that requires specialists?

It can be very difficult to gather and synthesize all the information coming from different doctors, often in different cities, and figure out where to go from there. This is one of the biggest advantages to having a general practitioner, and following through with aftercare.

I approached this column intending to write about the doctor shortage in Canada, only to find out, to my surprise, there technically isn’t one. Apparently many recent graduates of Canadian medical schools cannot find work.

This, however, isn’t reflected in patient wait times.

According to numbers from the Canadian Institute of Health Information, for every 467 Canadians there is one doctor.

According to the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada, 31.4 per cent of Canadians live in predominantly rural regions.  Towns with populations of less than 10,000 make up 22.2 per cent of Canada’s population but are treated by only 10.1 per cent of physicians.  Communities with between 10,000 and 100,000 people have only 11.9 per cent of physicians.

If you live in a rural community and need a specialist, chances are you will need to travel to a major city to receive the care you require. There are medical travel grants, which reimburse gas, hotel rooms, and a percentage of a day’s missed wages.

but there is an exhaustion that comes with travelling. It can also be difficult to coordinate travel if you do not drive, or have a caregiver who does.

While the number of doctors in rural areas has been growing in the last few years, there is clearly still a disparity if doctors aren’t finding jobs, and so many people in so many places need them. Hopefully this disparity can be addressed, and doctors can begin to serve the communities which need them most.