Health PEI working on patient registry list as the number of people waiting increases

Health PEI is working on different ways to reduce the patient registry list as the number has quickly grown over the past two years, including posting the numbers online.

'Right now, for every two people that come onto the registry, we assign one'

The provincial patient registry will be posting the number of Islanders looking for a family doctor in each of the counties in the new year. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Health PEI says it is working on dealing with the rising number of people on the patient registry list after the health minister said eight per cent of the Island's population is still looking for a family doctor.

He made the statement in the legislature on Tuesday — saying there are around 11,000 people signed up and looking for a physician.

Ray Gallant is one of the people concerned that after 40 years of having a family doctor, he might have to start back at the bottom of the patient registry list.

Gallant's family doctor Doug Tweel is retiring later this month after four decades of working on the Island.

"I was probably one of his first patients when he started his practice," Gallant said. 

"So it's very depressing to think Doug's going out the door and we're going to be without anyone in that position."

Ray Gallant worries that he may be looking for a new doctor for the first time in 40 years as his Charlottetown doctor is set to retire. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

But according to Health PEI, Gallant won't have to worry if a new doctor takes over Tweel's practice and patients.

Health PEI says it is actively recruiting to fill three positions left vacant by family physicians retiring or leaving but it acknowledges that won't increase the overall compliment of doctors or cut into the wait-list. 

Population growth has increased demand

Anita MacKenzie, acting director of primary care and chronic disease with Health PEI, said the population has grown "significantly" over the past few years and the province hasn't been able to assign patients at the same rate they're coming onto the registry.

"Right now, for every two people that come onto the registry, we assign one."

Health PEI is in the process of hiring three doctors to replace leaving or retired doctors and is working on a proposal to increase the total number of doctors on the Island. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

MacKenzie said the increased population on P.E.I. has led to the high numbers on the registry. 

"In the last two years, we've had a very significant growth," MacKenzie said. "We've had over 10,000 people come on the registry in the last two years."

Unable to keep up

There were 8,408 people waiting on the patient registry program in 2016 — currently there are 11,822.

MacKenzie says they have only added one family doctor to the Island's full total in that time.

There is a process we have to follow and Health PEI itself just can't decide we're going to make more physician positions.- Anita MacKenzie

"There is a process we have to follow and Health PEI itself just can't decide we're going to make more physician positions," MacKenzie said.

"We have done some significant investment in nurse practitioners that help us work collaboratively with physicians and be able to take more patients off the patient registry.  We just haven't, to this point, been able to keep up."

Anita MacKenzie, acting director of primary care and chronic disease with Health PEI, says that posting the number of patients registered on the wait-list online will allow for more transparency on the issue. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Health PEI says the three doctors they are in the process of hiring to replace existing practices won't have much of an impact on the registry list.

The outgoing doctor's patients — nearly 4,000 —were told to stay off the registry list and wait for the new doctors to take over.

Queens County seeing biggest demand

MacKenzie said Islanders that are joining the growing wait-list may need to be very patient. 

"We currently are assigning patients that have been on the registry for the past four years," she said.

"So there is a significant wait in the Queens area. Now in the Kings area, there's no wait at all. So it depends geographically where you are."

Registry numbers to be put online

Health PEI says it is working on a proposal to create a new health centre in Charlottetown and to hire more family doctors and nurse practitioners as part of it.

MacKenzie said there's still a long process to go through before that becomes a reality. 

Health PEI is planning to post the numbers online by county to show the public what the patient registry list looks like. 

I think there's transparency and people then can realize exactly the numbers we're dealing with and the different areas of P.E.I. and what the challenges are.- Anita MacKenzie

"I think there's transparency and people then can realize exactly the numbers we're dealing with and the different areas of P.E.I. and what the challenges are," MacKenzie said. 

"Some people might make a change in the region they pick.... So maybe if you currently have Queens as your region of preference, and you see ... there's no wait in Kings, maybe I will take a physician there."

The new numbers for the wait-list are expected to be online in the new year.

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With files from Steve Bruce