North

Hundreds of Yukoners get family doctors via program, hundreds more still waiting

Yukon's Find a Family Doctor program has matched 509 Yukoners with doctors, and 752 are still on the waiting list.

Yukon Medical Association president is 'optimistic' waiting list will be cleared within a year

The Find a Family Doctor program has helped 509 Yukoners find a primary-care doctor, but 752 people are still waiting to be matched. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Yukon's Find a Family Doctor program has matched 509 Yukoners with doctors, and 752 are still on the waiting list.

The Yukon Medical Association partnered with the territorial government on the program.

Dr. Katharine Smart, president of the association, said the Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) estimated in January that the waiting list will be cleared by this December.

"Based on the number we know of today, we're optimistic people looking for a match with a family doctor should be matched within six to 12 months," she said.

The program officially launched on Nov. 13, 2019.

Through a public-records request, CBC News obtained data from HSS, showing daily figures for the program from its inception to May 15, 2020.

The data shows one person enrolled in the program the day before the launch. The next day, 30 people enrolled, one was matched, and there were five participating doctors.

The Yukon government’s Find a Family Doctor program launched with five participating doctors. As of June 2020, 19 doctors are part of it. (Steve Silva/CBC)

By Nov. 30, the total number of enrollees was 385 — 66 of whom were matched — and 15 doctors were part of the program.

HSS spokesperson Clarissa Wall said no one from the department was available for an interview late last week, however she did provide the latest program data.

Between mid-may and June 11, there were 73 matches. If that rate continues going forward, it will take about 10 months to match the 752 people currently on the waiting list.

'Completely randomized' matching

However, that list can still grow; between May 15 and June 11, there were 72 new enrolments.

Wall said in an email that enrollees are matched in a "completely randomized" fashion — not first come, first served.

The Yukon government’s Find a Family Doctor program officially launched on Nov. 13, 2019. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Because the waiting list has never been cleared, someone who signed up now could get matched with a doctor before someone else who signed up half a year ago.

"It was set up this way to ensure that all Yukoners had an equal and fair chance to enrol. It means that applicants who applied late, due to barriers like internet access, won't be penalized," Wall said in the same email.

The program will be reviewed later this year to see if any changes are needed, she added.

"As of today, do I think we have a shortage of family doctors? No, I don't think so," Smart said on Saturday.

There still needs to be active recruitment, though, she said, because doctors retire, go on parental leave, or stop working for other reasons.

Katharine Smart is the president of the Yukon Medical Association. (Steve Silva/CBC)

As of June, 19 doctors are part of the Find a Family Doctor program. 

Smart said there are around 50 to 60 family doctors currently practicing in the territory, and there are enough doctors for the people on the waiting list to be matched, but that process can't be rushed.

"You have to space them into the time you have in your office and still have space for all the existing patients that you have," she said. "So most physicians are taking on ... between two and five patients a month."

Smart also said that doctors in the territory often have other responsibilities, such as roles in emergency departments. She said those opportunities, especially in rural areas, can be part of the allure of working in the territory.

If doctors were forced to work only as family doctors, that could result in staffing shortages elsewhere, and they might want to move out of the territory, she said.

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