My family, along with nearly a million B.C. residents, has been left by the health-care wayside. Without a family doctor, Canadians are left to advocate for themselves in a fragmented and complex health-care system. My grandparents are among those lacking the quality of care that we should expect for our most medically vulnerable.
Previously, my grandparents had an excellent family doctor who managed their health conditions, prescribed medications, and ensured regular checkups. However, since their doctor’s retirement several years ago, they have been without a family doctor. As a consequence, they miss out on preventative measures that could enhance their quality of life and combat disease progression.
I worry for my grandmother, who has many complex health issues, including fluctuating blood pressure. The consequences could have been especially dire for my grandpa, who is experiencing dementia, but he fortunately received life-altering treatment after being referred to a geriatric specialist by their family doctor before he retired.
This is the stark reality for our older Canadians. I can only imagine what my grandparents must be feeling. After having invested in this supposed universal health-care system all their lives, when they need it the most, they are left forgotten and uncared for.
Older individuals without a family doctor often rely on emergency departments and walk-in clinics for their primary care. While tele-health is becoming more accessible, many of the elderly, my grandparents included, lack computer skills to book online appointments. This forces them to visit crowded waiting rooms, which further overwhelms hospitals when it could have been a quick and comfortable check-up.
Wait times can be long, prompting some to postpone their visits until their conditions worsen, requiring more intensive and costly interventions. The Canadian Institute for Health Information found that of the 14 million hospital visits in 2022, nearly a million potential patients left before receiving care. It’s evident that the absence of a family doctor has left older patients falling through the cracks of the health-care system.
I recently attended the 23rd annual Healthcare Summit in Vancouver as part of my Semester in Dialogue program at Simon Fraser University. The many health-care and health industry leaders at the summit discussed various solutions to the primary care crisis, including a revamped payment system for family doctors, as the previous fee-for-service model encouraged rushed appointments and neglected complex cases.
From this summit, I learned that the primary care crisis is not merely a recent issue caused by COVID, but a systemic problem that has finally reached a breaking point. The traditional lifelong care model by family doctors is being replaced by a new generation of doctors who are trying to balance their personal happiness and health, while still providing consistent and quality care. This does come at a cost, requiring more family physicians to provide the same level of service.
Some advocate for simply training more health-care providers, others think that more family physicians would merely slap a band-aid on a bigger systemic issue. The public is continually left in the dark with policy proceedings and have no meaningful say in how they receive care.
As a healthy young individual, I found a family doctor relatively quickly, while my grandparents were turned away, being told their medical issues were too complex for the practice to take them on. It seems backwards: I’m perfectly healthy, yet my grandparents who require numerous medications three times a day are missing their connection to personalized care.
I really worry for my grandparents and the future of our health-care system. My grandparents grow older, their health continues to decline, their treatment considerations become more complex, and yet they don’t have the continuous support and care they once enjoyed.
The shortage of family physicians has been all over media since the beginning of the pandemic. Three years later, and millions of Canadians are still left unsupported by the health-care system. I refuse to let our elders suffer in silence and urge others to advocate for those who have been left by the wayside.
Devin McCrae is a behavioural neuroscience undergraduate student at Simon Fraser University.