Without a family doctor to answer her calls, Susan Way faces the reality of trying to figure out how she can get much-needed medication refills to ease the pain of her stage 4 cancer.
Way is one of many people across Ontario who are unable to find a family doctor. The 57-year-old said she was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in December 2019 before the disease progressed to stage 4 about a year and a half later.
“I had intermittent pain, which felt like pancreatitis or a gallbladder problem. Eventually it got severe. I started throwing up and passing out and went to the ER,” Way said. .
“A scan showed a blockage and a suspicious mass on my ovaries. So the ovarian cancer had spread to the intestine…and that was causing the pain.
Way said at the time she was living in Tecumseh where her former family doctor worked. When she and her family moved to Wheatley in November 2021, Way knew her doctor only had a few months left of work before retirement.
“Our doctor only did phone visits, which was fine with us. We knew he had to leave in March (2022) one day. But we didn’t want to unsubscribe from him until the last minute because then you don’t know if you have anyone else,” Way added.
But that concern is now a sad reality for Way and his family.
The Wheatley resident said her search for a family doctor took her to offices in Tecumseh, Leamington, Kingsville and Chatham.
According to Way, Health Care Connect — which helps Ontarians who don’t have a family doctor get matched with a doctor — told her the only doctor in southwestern Ontario they could find for her was at Tecumseh.
Because of her familiarity with the area, she says, this option was enough for her.
But Way adds that when she went to this office in May to register as a patient, she was told it would take two months to reach the top of the waiting list and another month to get her first date.
“I said, stage 4 cancer, can you move me up the list?” she remembers asking.
“They said, ‘No, everyone has a problem. “”
For Way, her need to be matched with a family doctor is important. This is because she is experiencing “extreme pain” in her kidney area because the cancer has spread to her adrenal gland.
“I’m holding onto the Tramadol very tightly, counting my pills and trying not to use too many because the prescription came from my (former) family doctor,” Way said, adding that she had to call her oncologist several times. before they authorize him to transfer this order.
“Why do I have to beg? I shouldn’t have to. It’s a bit ridiculous. »
According to Way, medical professionals have informed her that walk-in clinics likely won’t be able to prescribe the pain medications she needs. Instead, she would need to get them from the emergency room.
“It’s not something I should have to do at this point.”
Shortage of doctors
According to the Ontario Medical Association, approximately one million people in the province do not have access to a primary care physician. The organization adds that there are 2.32 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants.
“We know that attracting medical students and residents to family medicine can be difficult. We know compensation is a challenge,” said OMA President Dr. Adam Kassam, adding that there is a “50-person shortage” of family physicians and specialists specifically in Tecumseh.
Ontario Medical Association President Dr. Adam Kassam says there are about a million Ontarians who still haven’t been matched with a family doctor. (Sanjay Maru/CTV News)
“But at the end of the day, we also have to recognize that if we’re going to be able to have a sustainable, robust healthcare system that actually continues to serve patients in need, we’re going to have to invest in primary care, at the both from a provincial level and a federal level.
On March 28, the OMA ratified a new contract with the province, creating provisions for more family physicians to join Family Health Organizations, groups of physicians who work together to give patients better access to primary care services.
“We believe family physicians should have the autonomy to choose their type of practice, including patient enrollment models, such as family health organizations and family health teams,” Kassam said.
“We know that the previous administration actually retained the ability for new family medicine residency graduates to enter these models.
He hopes the new deal — which also includes a “permanent framework for virtual phone and video care” — will open the door for more doctors to specialize in family medicine.
“There are absolutely services that can be delivered very effectively through virtual means. But there are also other areas of medical care that must be provided in person,” he said.
“We therefore need to find a way to consolidate and support our existing health and human resources infrastructure, but also to think about the future.”
Way said she’s seen the changes in access to family doctors since moving to southwestern Ontario about a decade and a half ago.
“When we moved here to the region 15 years ago, there was a shortage of family doctors. Then a few years later, everyone congratulated each other because there were plenty of them. Then all of a sudden a number of doctors are retiring at the same time,” she said.
“It’s a mess.”
Way isn’t the only one in her Wheatley family who urgently needs a family doctor. She said her daughter constantly needed refills of ADHD medication and her husband “could barely walk” because he had a stenosis.
Speaking, Way said she hopes the health care system can take steps to allow better access to a family doctor — not just for her family, but for the nearly 3,000 other people who live in Wheatley.
“Where are they going to go? They can’t go to Amherstburg. There are no doctors there. A Windsor doctor will have a three or four month waiting list,” she said.
“Now they have nothing left.”