I have the dubious distinction of being an expert on this issue, having spent far too many years without a family doctor in this land of supposed universal health care. When you don’t have an MD, there are only two options: Walk-In Clinics, or Emergency Rooms.
It isn’t an issue if you’re healthy; and so, by and large, most people don’t really understand, because it doesn’t directly affect them. But it is a terrible thing when you’re ill; but it is far far worse when your child is sick.
This issue is destined to become much worse, very soon. Even if you have a family doctor, ask yourself when your MD will be retiring. Presently the largest demographic of MDs is the same as it is in every other part of society: most of Ontario’s doctors are baby boomers.
waiting list blues
When I moved here the waiting list I wanted to sign with was a year. They had 2.5 doctors, with the “half” doctor practising half the time here, and half in another municipality. But he was getting tired of commuting, and so gave both clinics the option of employing him full time. Our clinic lost. And after 10 years on the waiting list, they called to ask if I wanted to remain on it.
When I first moved to Waterloo Region more than a decade ago, it wasn’t that big a deal. We could go to the walk-in clinic near Fairview Mall. They had a really cool set up of plexiglass display cases where model trains would chug along the tracks between the waiting room and though the examination rooms. Back then, they were open 7 days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. These days the hours have been cut back. If you arrive after 1:00pm on a weekend, chances are they will have closed the day’s intake. Not because they want to, but because they don’t have enough doctors. Oh, and sad to say, I haven’t seen the trains run in years, either.
In Canada, Health Care is a provincial responsibility, but the money comes from the federal government. Federal funding was cut dramatically several governments ago, and although the funding has since increased, I suspect levels are still well below where they were.
doctor shortage: bad to worse
Doctors all over are retiring much faster than they can be replaced. It used to be hospitals had waiting lists for family doctors. Not any more. You can search the Ontario College of Physicians Website, but if you find an MD anywhere close, chances are they have stopped accepting patients by the time you call.
Over the years I’ve watched our once great health system get starved into the shell we have today. The example of Canada’s health care success has long been a thorn in the side of the private insurance lobby in the United States… and look what damage that caused. Now the American Government has had to step in and implement their own public system. The big insurance companies don’t like government meddling, because they only get a fraction of the profit they do with private health care. Canada’s health care system – covering every citizen – costs less per capita than the American system that only covered a small fraction of their population.
Canadians only got universal health care due to minority government horse trading. My theory is that the ruling parties (and their corporate backers) don’t actually want universal health care, but they know citizens do, so they don’t dare dismantle it. Instead of attacking it head on, they have let it waste away.
Some years ago Ontario capped the amount of money any single doctor could make from OHIP in a year. From a budgetary standpoint, that limits the amount of money the province has to pay to doctors. Doctors near the US border have been known to go south after they hit their Ontario cap. In under serviced areas, some doctors have even been known to tend patients without OHIP remuneration. Other doctors have taken to charging patients for things not covered by OHIP. And many stay on past the time when they would have retired because there is no one to take over their patient load.
We have a serious doctor shortage right now, but only a trickle of new doctors coming in. I think this is because the government prefers it this way. If there were enough doctors, the total amount of money the Provincial Government would be paying out would increase dramatically.
In the meantime, if you don’t have a family doctor, chances are good you don’t see a doctor until you’re good and sick, and probably have been for a long time. Sitting for hours in ER or a clinic is a last resort. Of course, this means there’s less chance of catching things early. And prevention? Forget it. Which means that many of us are less productive, and when we do go in, the procedures often cost much more.
Since so many of us are without an MD, we have no choice but to go to a walk-in clinic. Finding a walk-in clinic in the very under serviced Waterloo Region can be a challenge. And when you need one, you need one NOW.
Yet the yellow pages aren’t a big help, nor is the government website Walk-In Clinics – The Ministry of Health Can Help You: Find The Closest Walk In Clinic that popped up at the top of the Google Search.
The most comprehensive list of walk-in clinics is from the Region of Waterloo Public Health department:
Cambridge Walk-in Clinic
980 Franklin Blvd.
The Doctor’s Office
170 University Ave West
Weber Street Medical Centre
5A-1400 Weber Street East
Laurentian Walk-in Clinic
750 Ottawa Street South
Canadian Medical Clinic
100 The Boardwalk
Urgent Care Clinic
385 Fairway Road S.
Urgent Care Clinic
751 Victoria Street S.
This is the list today, 13 March, 2012. For the most current version check the Public Health Department’s page.
[note: edited for clarity.]