wait times for healthcare in Canada


English: Alberta Health Services logo from vis...

… in which case, it’s a hodge-podge of incredible inconvenience, outdated ideas and control freak issues.

One of the reasons I wait to go to the doctor until I absolutely can’t home remedy myself to semi-functionality is that the system created by Alberta Health, and zealously overprotected by the medical profession here, sucks sweaty donkey balls.

Factoring access issues out (because family doctors – who are the gatekeepers to all other doors unless you opt to simply brave the emergency room), the main problem is timeliness coupled with time sucking runaround.

Back in Iowa, I could call my doctor’s office and generally get in to see her the same day. X-ray and lab were on site, so there was never a need to run about the city and diagnosis or action plan was meted out at the same appointment.

If I needed to see another doctor or have additional tests, it happened within a couple of weeks. Only rarely did one wait a month or more during the diagnostic phase. A good thing because though most issues are minor and not life-threatening, one can’t really know this for sure in the initial stages. Timely diagnosis is more than a little bit crucial. And so is treatment – depending.

Here it is a very different story. Nothing is on site at the doctor’s office. Nothing.

X-rays? They send you over to queue up at the hospital behind in-patients and the rabble choking the ER.

Blood tests? There is a lab at the hospital and a private lab over by the Starbucks. The doctor will get back to you with the results in a few days. Maybe.

Need a referral? Sometimes the PCN, which is the overlord of the system, will be notified and when the scheduling nurse gets to your referral (they will tell you to call PCN if you haven’t heard anything in a month’s time), she/he will call the office of the doctor you’ve been referred to and set up the appointment for you. You are notified and then asked if the time works. You will make the time work because rescheduling will only throw you further down the list.

Once you have been seen by a doctor, you are theoretically allowed to call and schedule further appointments for yourself. Or not. Sometimes, it’s back to the referral mill for you.

Which is where I am.

My doctor easily granted the referral I needed and told me she’d fax it that same afternoon. However, when I called this morning to make the appointment, the receptionist informed me that, “We don’t take faxes. Only phone calls. Your doctor will have to phone us.”

Which won’t happen. Doctors don’t make their own phone calls. The PCN does it for them. So instead of possibly snagging an appointment in early September, which is where the bookings for the doctor I need to see are currently, it could be October or November because I am now relegated to PCN nurse scheduling hell. Phone tag and “no, that day doesn’t work”.

What doctor doesn’t use fax? Or email. Or e-script to pharmacies?

Doctors in Alberta, that’s who.

Is this the 21st century? Because it is in Iowa and has been for the past decade and a bit. I – O – W – A! When you are more backwards than a corn belt state in the Midwest of the United States, it’s time to be concerned.

Every doctor in Alberta is physically welded to a laptop, but that’s as far as the future goes. Everything else is 1970’s. This includes office decor and hospital rooms. Going to the hospital or doctor’s office here is like stepping back into my childhood pediatrician’s clinic (which housed an x-ray, lab and multiple specialists under the same roof – back in 1971).

I am half-way tempted to just say “fuck it” and see if my sister, DNOS, can’t get me an appointment with her doctor when I am visiting next month.

This is ridiculous bullshit. Our tax dollars pay these people and Rob’s paycheck is docked considerably to purchase the supplemental insurance which keeps us from, among other things, having to beg for pharma samples. A lot of money goes to the cause of the Alberta Health System treating us like inconveniences between them and their provincial paychecks.

On bright side, the odds of my current physical woes being fatal are low. Not nothing. But low. As a Canadian, I am supposed to rejoice in that because “at least I won’t lose my house like people in the States do”, which is a fallacy for another day.

UPDATE (July 16) – Four phone calls to the office of DR I need to see, and three reminder calls to the DR who is referring me late, and I still have no appointment. And there’s no way around this. The local network that “controls” this section of the province is only a database that would – at best – point me to yet another gate keeper to restart the referral process. If Rate My MD is to be believed, the vast majority of my other local choices really suck. The guy I want to see is the best going even if he has zero personality and less bedside manner than is typical even for here. At this point, the only way to speed things up would be to just park in the ER where – at minimum – I would at least get the tests I need and some sort of confirmation as to whether my issue is trivial or something that needs more investigating.  We leave for holiday inside the month and a quick Google of my Iowa hometown revealed that despite having a population of just under 58,000, it boasts as many specialty DR’s of the type I need to see as the area where I live, which is approaching 1,000,000, give or take. Worse case is, according to my sister, I could easily be seen and screened over our three week stay. I’d rather not do that. I am Canadian enough at this point to look down my nose at the sort of person who queue jumps or, worse, flaunts their economic privilege by heading south of the border. It’s one thing to get your dental work done in Mexico when you winter over in the American Southwest or take a winter siesta from Canada’s winter, but quite another to use the US healthcare system. However, I am a little bit worried and my husband is more so. His past experiences with “the system” are more unpleasant than mine, and I would prefer he not have to go through anything similar with me. Today I am feeling stoic (though I came close to tears when talking with the refDR’s receptionist), and I will give it another day or so. All bets are off after that. Patience is a seldom rewarded virtue in the diagnostic stage of unknown medical issues. I learned that quickly when my late husband was stricken. Squeaky wheels inspire momentum if only to get you moving quickly to the next leg of the journey so that you are someone else’s pain in the ass.