The Crisis of Canadian Healthcare (Pt. 4)
The Emergency Room Phenomenon
Alright, so here is a scenario to think about. You don't have a family doctor. Whatever the reason for this, it doesn't matter because you just don't have one. So that's the first strike against you.
It's late in the afternoon and the illness you've been fighting for the last week just won't go away. You've tried to rest. You've tried over the counter remedies. But nothing is making it go away. So you finally make the decision to go see a doctor, but what do you do?
You have no family doctor to make an appointment with. The walk-in clinic closed at 4 pm and isn't open on the weekends. Or maybe, even worse, your town doesn't have a walk-in clinic. Maybe you live in a rural area or small enough town that this isn't something that exists.
So your next option is to go to emerge.
Well, you aren't really having a medical emergency. You have a cold, the flu maybe or a viral infection, but it's not a medical emergency. But where else are you supposed to go?
If you're lucky enough to live in a town with a hospital you drive the short distance to it. Otherwise, it may be a half-hour drive before you reach the closest hospital and join the waiting room crowd in the emergency room.
I hope you brought a book with you or are prepared to scroll aimlessly through social media for the next 6-8 hours because that's how long you are going to wait. And that may just be until you get put into a room. It may be longer still before you see a doctor or have tests run.
This is the reality for many people. Seniors, adults, youth, and infants all crowd emergency rooms for things as simple as strep throat due to a lack of access to family doctors.
Hospitals have become a catch-all for those who cannot get medical attention through the traditional means. Emergency rooms are not the last resort walk-in clinics. And people will wait almost a full day to get the care that they need.
People miss work in order to sit through the triage process and a lot of the time they still leave without the answers that they need. All the while they use hospital resources, take up beds and rooms that could be used for other patients with higher priority needs.
This leads to people being placed in storage closets and in hallways waiting for treatment. It sounds made up, but I've seen it first hand. People have dislocated joints reset in full view of the waiting room. There is a lack of privacy. There is a lack of respect.
The lack of family doctors has created a domino effect within the medical system. They are the front line workers, the first step for most people when seeking basic medical care. And without access to them, people go elsewhere. This puts a strain on other parts of the medical system.
Walk-in clinics are overcrowded. Emergency rooms are overcrowded. People are pushed through rather than seen to. Mistakes are made and many of them have dire consequences.
Doctors and nurses are working within a broken system and they are doing the best that they can. Are they all wonderful? No, I won't make that blanket claim. But for the most part, they are trying to do their best with what they have.
I think that in order to start a solution to this problem it needs to begin with family doctors. The front line needs to be rebuilt in order to alleviate the strain from the rest of the system. But doctors need some form of incentive to work in Canada and not to go to more lucrative, more business-like healthcare systems.
I don't know how to fix the healthcare system. I don't know if pouring more money into it will help. I don't know if rebuilding it from the ground up is the best solution. But it needs to be fixed.
It has been decades now that it has been in crisis and our population isn't getting any smaller or any younger. The Canadian healthcare system is great, in theory, and it could be great in practice as well.
We need to stop disillusioning ourselves with the idea that we have this "gold standard" of a system. We need to stop thinking it is perfect the way it is. It is broken and it needs to be fixed, preferably before the death count of people on waitlists continues to rise.