Why Do We Wait at the Doctor’s Office?
Canadians citizens have access to public health care known commonly as “Medicare”. It is a single payer system and is funded by the public through taxes. Medicare allows equal access to approximately 99% of physician services and 90% of hospital services. Many Canadians feel a strong sense of pride with this system as no matter how rich or poor an individual is, they can receive care for their general health issues. While this system offers benefits for all Canadians, it has some significant issues with wait times.
The Wait Time Problem
There is no secret that we have a wait time problem in Canadian clinics and hospitals. We started developing SkipTheWaitingRoom.com after waiting for many hours in waiting rooms and emergency rooms. This process can be even more painful for parents with small children who also have to wait during these times. A study done by the Wait Time Alliance revealed that 27% of Canadians had reported waiting for longer than four hours in a waiting room. This number is much lower in European countries where only 1% of Dutch citizens and 5% of British citizens reported waiting for over four hours.
The issue of wait times is also quite apparent when waiting to see a specialist. The average wait to see a specialist in Canada after a referral from a family doctor is almost four and a half months. This number has almost doubled since 1993 showing that the waiting time problem is seemingly worsening.
Why do we Wait?
So why do we have a problem with wait times in Canada? Two doctors that we talked to prior to writing this article claimed that the reason wait times are so long in Canada is that there are not enough medical staff to meet the demand. People may think that the obvious answer is to simply have medical schools pump out more doctors to meet this demand. However, this is an extremely costly process for the government and our country cannot necessarily afford to simply pump out more physicians. There is also a demand to keep the quality of care as high as possible. Currently, the process of getting into medical school is quite rigorous and the candidates chosen are considered to be some of the best students our country has to offer. By increasing the amount of positions available, we would have to decrease the entry requirements from what they are currently.
Because there are not enough health care providers in Canada, some doctors feel the need to take on more patients in order to keep the number of individuals without a family doctor as low as possible. This results in doctors who have very large practices. If your doctor has a large practice, there is a good chance that you have a hard time booking an appointment to see them. It may take weeks or even months to book an appointment to deal with minor health issues. People are often unwilling to wait this time and will instead attend a walk in clinic or go to outpatients instead. This further increases the wait time problem in the ER.
While you may be able to call your family doctor and book an appointment to see them, not everyone has the ability to do so. Healthcare providers know these individuals as “orphans”. In 2014 it was reported that approximately 4.4 million Canadians do not have a family doctor. This forces these individuals to either go to an emergency room or walk in clinic to have access to health services. If the trend continues and this number keeps increasing, you will see a further increase in the amount of time you must wait to see a healthcare provider during a walk in clinic or at an emergency room.
Many workplaces force their employees to get a doctor’s note if they miss work due to illness. Many of these employees will simply attend a walk in clinic to get this note as it can take weeks to get an appointment with their family doctor. This further crowds the waiting room and effectively increases the time we must wait. Recently, a Canadian doctor in Alberta took a stand in a note to an employer detailing that he/she did not approve of the practice of sick notes and deemed it a burden on the health care system. Another doctor in Nova Scotia has also said that she will be charging $30 per sick note to the company of the individual requesting the note. You can read more about these stories here.
In 2014 a Canadian doctor by the name of Dr. Danielle Martin attended a U.S. Senate hearing addressing questions about the state of healthcare in Canada. During this time she made the interesting comment that there may be better ways to organize our system to use it more efficiently. For example, if there is a line at the hospital that has twenty people in in waiting to see a doctor and another one that is empty, it would make logical sense to open the other line to everyone to speed up the process. While there may be other factors as to why the empty line has no people (it may be for a separate service), Dr. Martin believes that there may be ways to better utilize our current services to improve our system. The video in which Dr. Martin makes these comments can be found here.
While we do not claim to be experts in the field of healthcare and wait times, we hope that you have a deeper insight into why wait times are a problem in Canada after having read this article. We also hope that you consider Skip the Waiting Room as a remedy to the problem of long wait times in walk in clinics. While we cannot reduce wait times in all health sectors, we are confident that we can help you save time the next time you attend a walk in clinic. Our goal is to allow access to accurate, up to date information about the walk in clinics in your area and even book an appointment online for one of those clinics. You will then be able to go about your day and only depart for your appointment when it is time to do so. We feel this will greatly reduce the amount of time you spend sitting in a waiting room.
How we can help
Our goal at Skip the Waiting Room is to help you, well, skip the waiting room. We are working with walk in clinic providers to bring their schedule and clinic details online.This will allow you to see an up to date view of a clinic’s information and capacity so you can make an informed decision. The best part is that we will be working with providers to allow you to book an appointment from anywhere you have internet access. After you have done this, we will only ask you to depart when it is time to do so. We want the picture below to represent what you will see when you attend one of our partnered clinics – an empty waiting room.