New Brunswickers with doctors facing increasing wait for health care, survey suggests
Only about half of patients say they can get an appointment within five days
Terry Ellis waited three years to get a new physician after his family doctor retired.
While on the waiting list with thousands of New Brunswickers, the Bathurst resident turned to lengthy waits at walk-in clinics and at times the emergency room. After being assigned a primary care provider, he expected getting health care would become much easier.
Ellis, 65, said he's pleased with his new doctor — but not with the wait. He has Parkinson's disease and said it takes upwards of three months to get an appointment.
"If I called them today, they would tell me they have an appointment for me in February," he said.
That's a trend being observed across New Brunswick and particularly in northern regions.
A new survey on primary care from the New Brunswick Health Council found a gradual decrease in residents' ability to get an appointment with their family doctor within five days. Only 51 per cent of New Brunswickers surveyed were able to get an appointment within five days, down from 56 per cent in 2011.
The council, a provincial Crown corporation which reports publicly on the performance of the health-care system, conducted the survey in 2020. The results were recently released.
Stéphane Robichaud, CEO of the New Brunswick Health Council, said New Brunswickers with a primary care provider appear to fall under two categories: those with access to timely appointments and those who have to wait three to four weeks.
"When it comes to primary health services, we've never really had a proper management of that level of service so setting some targets, ensuring there's common practices with scheduling," he said. "As a system we have to strengthen that."
The survey was conducted during about eight months in 2020. About 13,500 New Brunswickers 18 years or older and none from the same household were surveyed. Some had doctors, some didn't.
The survey found a gradual decrease in residents reporting they most often turn to their primary care provider when in need of care. Only about 57 per cent turn to their doctor or nurse practitioner, the survey suggested, compared with 62 per cent in 2011.
Robichaud said the council heard that moving between a clinic, the emergency room and a primary care provider creates issues with continuity of care.
"What people are saying is there's an impact of dealing with professionals who don't know them," he said. "They don't know their history, they don't have access to their file necessarily."
The council also heard people with chronic conditions are consuming more time of family doctors. These people could benefit from a variety of resources to alleviate time from primary care physicians.
The provincial government's health reform plan, released last month, aims to improve access to care by allowing people to circumvent primary care providers for certain types of specialty care.
It promises to launch a virtual consultation system for faster access to specialists and allow people to schedule their own blood work or X-rays, reducing the workload of family doctors.
Turning to emergency rooms
In the Bathurst and Acadian Peninsula area, where Ellis lives, many are turning to hospitals. The survey suggests 50.4 per cent of residents visited an emergency room in the past 12 months, despite having a primary care provider, because their provider was not available.
That issue was highest in the Edmundston region, with 56 per cent of residents surveyed reporting they turned to an emergency room because they couldn't get a timely appointment.
Ellis said he hears the hospital or walk-in clinics are often the choice for people in Bathurst who face similar waits.
"If I had the flu or anything right now, I'd just go to the hospital," he said.