A ques­tion of care

Colum­nist Kirsten Dal­ley tack­les wait time in our health care sys­tem

The Central Voice - - Front Page - Kirsten Dal­ley Kirsten Dal­ley is a bi­ol­ogy stu­dent, pub­lished writer, and ro­bot­ics en­thu­si­ast from cen­tral New­found­land.

Our coun­try is known for many great things in­clud­ing free health­care.

While our health­care isn’t ex­actly free, it is much less daunt­ing to walk into a doc­tor’s of­fice know­ing you’ve al­ready paid for your visit with taxes in­stead of hav­ing to foot the bill at the desk. This makes us seem like the pin­na­cle of health­care to many who do not live in our sys­tem. Per­haps it might be true for the con­sumer, but is our health­care re­ally that out­stand­ing, es­pe­cially here in New­found­land?

Med­i­cal Care Plan (MCP) cov­ers an ar­ray of ser­vices such as vis­its to the doc­tor or hos­pi­tal, surgery, ma­ter­nity care, and ra­di­ol­ogy. It does not in­clude other ser­vices such as eye ex­ams, am­bu­lance ser­vices, and some med­i­cally nec­es­sary pro­ce­dures. Pri­vate in­sur­ance helps to close these gaps, but it is not al­ways af­ford­able or avail­able to those who need it. Still, the ma­jor­ity of health­care is funded in the ap­prox­i­mately $3-bil­lion 2018 bud­get al­lot­ment.

That’s not to say the money that goes into our sys­tem is sup­ply­ing all of the re­sources we need. Try­ing to find a fam­ily physi­cian is al­most an im­pos­si­ble task. There are in­cen­tives given to work in New­found­land af­ter med­i­cal school meant to en­tice physi­cians to stay. We bring doc­tors in from other coun­tries to fill in the gaps.

And yet it seems there are nowhere near enough doc­tors avail­able. If you are lucky enough to have a gen­eral prac­ti­tioner, chances are you could be wait­ing up to a week to get an ap­point­ment. There are now some web­sites of­fer­ing quick and easy ac­cess as well as nurse prac­ti­tioner clin­ics that come at an out-of-pocket cost. I found my cur­rent doc­tor on Face­book and was lucky enough to get in within two weeks, which is prac­ti­cally un­heard of. The last time I was at her of­fice some­one booked mul­ti­ple ap­point­ments ahead so that they could en­sure they would be back in time for their med­i­ca­tion re­fills.

It’s not just wait times for rou­tine vis­its. Spe­cial­ists in psy­chi­a­try, neu­rol­ogy, or rheuma­tol­ogy can take months to years to see. I had a re­fer­ral put through in May 2017 and it was only in Au­gust 2018 that I heard any­thing about it, but not for an ap­point­ment. The of­fice called to ask if I still needed to be on the wait­list; it was so long they were call­ing to see if there were any names they could cut from the list.

These sit­u­a­tions can be frus­trat­ing for some and life-threat­en­ing for oth­ers. To re­ceive a re­fer­ral to a spe­cial­ist in the first place of­ten means your con­di­tion or ill­ness is se­ri­ous enough that your life is greatly af­fected. Imag­ine the shock when you re­al­ize that this heavy bur­den will be­come your new nor­mal for months, or know­ing that your health will con­tinue to de­cline in­def­i­nitely with ev­ery ripped off cal­en­dar page. It’s a hope­less feel­ing.

Bit­ter emo­tions aren’t ex­clu­sive to non-ur­gent ap­point­ments. Emer­gency room wait times are sky high de­spite the con­stant at­tempts at in­tro­duc­ing new al­ter­na­tives for non­life-threat­en­ing cases. Go­ing to the ER is like plan­ning a day trip: what can you pack to keep your­self en­ter­tained while you wait four to 12 hours, feel­ing mis­er­able?

Just re­cently I spent a sig­nif­i­cant pe­riod of time wait­ing to be seen for in­tense pain, only to be told that there was noth­ing they could do and no fur­ther test­ing would be done. Our health­care sys­tem cur­rently does not have the re­sources to pro­vide suf­fi­cient and quick di­ag­nos­tic ser­vices.

Are we get­ting the best bang for our buck in our health­care sys­tem? Pos­si­bly not. There are sig­nif­i­cant gaps in the ser­vices we have and other ar­eas where fund­ing might make an im­prove­ment. New­found­land is a dif­fi­cult place to live with the cur­rent eco­nomic and so­cial con­di­tions. While the govern­ment is on the right track with bur­saries for med­i­cal stu­dents, there is more that could be done to en­cour­age set­tle­ment and stim­u­late eco­nomic growth over­all.

The way re­fer­rals are han­dled may also have room for im­prove­ment. Ex­tended hours and flex­i­ble sched­ul­ing are great ad­di­tions to our sys­tem, al­though our emer­gency room mod­els could also ben­e­fit from an over­haul. While our cur­rent sys­tem con­tin­ues to fail us, I do be­lieve there are emerg­ing prob­lem solvers that will change the way we do things.

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