I am lucky. Unlike many of my friends I’m not among the ranks of the 4.1 million Canadians (about 12 percent) who don’t have a primary care physician. The reason I have a doctor and they don’t is because I have connections.
I haven’t always been so fortunate. Although in my mid-20s, for several years I made do at a “teen health center” for yearly check-ups. But then my mother began working with a woman whose husband works in the same building as a large medical clinic. This colleague (via her husband) was able to get my mom an appointment with an excellent doctor in the building. After about a year of seeing this doctor, my mom managed to get me a spot in the practice, too.
My doctor is a wonderful physician, but she’s terribly overburdened. Like most Canadian doctors she must limit patients to one problem per visit, in part to cope with the sheer volume, and also because the Ontario Health Insurance Plan only reimburses her on a per-visit basis.
Even though I’m one of the lucky ones, except for emergencies I still can expect to wait two months or more to get a doctor appointment. If there’s an emergency I can usually get in within a week. However, a week can be an awfully long time if someone’s in pain.
What’s troubling about my story is not just that I went so long without a doctor, but that situations like mine are accepted as “normal” under Canada’s single-payer government health care system. Even as they defend their system, many middle-class Canadians recount similar tales of using social networks to secure access to timely care, while accepting long waits for “non-necessary” medical care and diagnostic medicine as a given.
Even more disturbing is the impact of this system on people who lack the ability to use social connections to get around the queues. That’s especially the case with those in the lower soci0-economic strata, and the less well educated.
Follow this blog for more “What’s normal in Canadian health care” stories in the coming days and weeks.