Yesterday, I sat on the bed in a the urgent care clinic waiting for the doctor to come in and look at my 'ross' (a cyst on my lower back that became infected....Sean and I nicknamed it Ross because of an episode of Friends...) Anyhow, at the beginning of April I went to urgent care to have the infection drained and they've been packing the wound ever since. It was a big hole.
I'm getting off topic here...so as I sit on the bed I'm listening to the receptionist check in another patient. She swipes his health card, confirms his name and then asks his address, phone number and family doctor's name.
He doesn't have a family doctor.
This in itself, is not unusual. Over 1 million people in the province of Ontario don't have a family doctor. Why? Well, there just aren't enough of them. They leave. They go to other provinces. They go to the US. They go to less populated communities because they'll receive a premium to practice there. I'm one of the lucky ones, I do have a family doctor...but because of the shortage he's got so many patients that getting a same week appointment is impossible. I'm at least two weeks waiting to see him for anything (unless it's urgent...more on that later) It's why I went to the urgent care clinic when my ross became infected. I knew I couldn't wait two weeks to see my own doctor.
Now, in the past, I'd hear that a million Ontarians didn't have a family doctor and I'd think, meh, it's no big deal. There are numerous walk in clinics, urgent care clinics, community health clinics and even the emergency room, so despite not having a family doctor, no one will ever go without health care.
But then I think back. I think to May 27th 2011. When I found The Lump. It was a Friday night. I went to the (same) urgent care clinic because my doctor doesn't do weekends. The doctor found the lump, with guidance, and arranged for me to have a mammogram and see a surgeon. My mammogram was scheduled for just a few days later but the surgeon appointment was scheduled for early August.
Efficient? Not as much as one would hope for.
On the 30th, I called my family doctor and broke down on the phone to the receptionist saying I couldn't wait a two weeks to see him, that I'd found a lump. I was in his office 2 hours later.
He had me in to see my oncologist in a matter of weeks. And from there, a new surgeon. I had a diagnosis roughly 7 weeks later.
7 weeks is not outstanding by any means. I probably could have been done faster. It should have been done faster. Waiting 2 weeks for pathology when it could be back within 3 days is not efficient.
But here's the thing. I got a diagnosis in 7 weeks because I have a family doctor.
Had I not had a family doctor who knew me, knew me well, knew my medical history and all that goes with it I would have waited the 10 weeks just to see the surgeon for a consultation. Then I would have waited for the surgery. Then I would have waited 2 weeks for the pathology. My diagnosis would have come roughly around the time I was being wheeled in for my mastectomy.
The delay in a diagnosis could have been catastrophic. How much would my cancer have grown in that extra 14 or so weeks? It was an aggressive cancer. It's very possible that had I not had a family doctor who moved me through the system faster that my diagnosis would have been a stage 4 by the time I got it. And that rather than sitting here now and pondering this I'd be pondering my death.
But, as it stands, I'm one of the lucky ones. I have a family doctor.
Our medical system is fantastic. It has it's problem, sure, but every single doctor and nurse I've ever come across has been fantastic, dedicated and professional. I'm by no means knocking the doctor I saw in the urgent care clinic. He did his job. The problem is the system. The problem is the lack of family doctors available for us, the patients, to build that relationship with so that when you go to them with a medical concern they know when it's necessary to fast track you through the system or to push their colleagues to make a space in their schedule to get you in sooner....so that they know when it's life or death.
I'm one of the lucky ones. I have a family doctor.
I fear for those who don't.