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Waiting for a robocall –Life without a family doctor in Nova Scotia

So, got my Robocall. It came mid-way through a Tuesday afternoon – just about two months ago.

To determine if the estimated 37,000 people on Nova Scotia Health Authority’s list still need a doctor and have the same contact information, the authority initiated the Robocall system.

I was more than ready for this call.

It has been two years since my former doc left town. So, yeah, a family doctor would be nice.

As for the estimated 60,000 Nova Scotians who need a family doctor but aren’t on the list – well, they simply missed the pleasure of a Robocall.

Robotic computer voices can jangle nerves and I was straining to hear every nuance – if a robotic voice can be nuanced. I could feel my blood pressure rising.

It felt like a job interview.

Nail the answers. Get this right or it’s back to the bottom of THE LIST for you. And no one wants to go there.

“Are you still looking for a doctor? Press one for yes.”

I stab the proper button.

The robotic voice confirmed I had, indeed, pressed one for yes. Yay me.

Same contact information? Yep, yep, yep.

Score! Still on the list.


Surely it is only a matter of time before there is no longer a need to suck up to every walk-in doctor I encounter. I am securely confirmed on the list!

Gone will be the days of pretending to be younger (older people require more of a doctor’s time) or healthier or more interesting or more connected, in the hope of snagging a family doctor.

I once name-dropped my former doctor’s name to a particularly thorough and likable walk-in doctor, hoping to make a connection. Indeed, she did know my former doctor – they were good friends – but she still wasn’t accepting new patients.

Yes, well. The list.

As a member of the bruised ranks who no longer have a family doctor – whether on or off “the list” – I look back at my former Cape Breton-based doctor with something approaching adoration.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll call her Dr. A.

She was wonder woman in a white coat.

Short, bright and wickedly cheerful, she would stand with her hands on her hips, listening intently to everything I said.

If a test was needed, she ordered it. Quickly, efficiently and without hesitation.

She was accessible and smart as a whip.

If I needed to slow down and live healthier, she didn’t mind telling me and if I needed to be told off, no problem.

She gave my daughters exemplary care. She delivered my grandson.

Then came the job transfer to Halifax in 2014.

Oh, when we moved to Halifax I did find a family doctor who practiced out of a walk-in clinic.

Sadly, he was a disengaged, cocky and borderline negligent practitioner. Hey, let’s be honest, it was either incompetency or negligence – take your pick.

By my eighth visit, he finally remembered I was his patient. Prior to that moment, every time I walked into his office, he thought I was “just” another walk-in patient looking for a prescription.

Striding into the examination room, he’d pull out his prescription pad. He would look at his patient expectantly, pen hovering over the pad.

Well, he could order tests and (probably) interpret them properly.

But, even the pharmacist shook his head when an anti-depressant was prescribed for osteo-arthritis.

Anyway, this guy is long gone. The last I heard he was practicing somewhere in Ontario.

Hey, like any profession, the medical community has good and bad practitioners. Some are brilliant, some are moderately talented and some are downright incompetent.

And, as in any profession, you can find all categories practicing across the province. However, there is no guarantee any one of them – good or bad – will take you on as a patient.

So, for the last two years, it’s been walk-in doctors: no consistent follow-up and most times no referrals or tests.

Well, if a doctor sends a patient for tests or a referral to a specialist, there is an obligation to follow-up. Consequently, many walk-in doctors won’t do either.

Some will though but you take your chances.  

I asked one walk-in doctor if medical marijuana might help with osteo-arthritis. He looked like I’d just asked for a three-month supply of Oxycotin.

The sad reality of going without consistent, informed and caring medical attention means people are suffering needlessly.

What do people do if they develop cancer?  

A friend (also without a doctor) said he would make as much noise as he possibly could if he was suffering from cancer.

“I would scream to high heaven and set up a picket at Province House,” he said.

With no family doctor, however, he worried it could be too late for screaming and picketing by the time the cancer was found.

And so, we wait. Close to one hundred thousand-strong, we wait. And while we wait, we look to government for answers.

During the 2013 election, Premier Stephen MacNeil promised all Nova Scotians access to a family doctor by 2015.

Well, that didn’t work out.

What is the problem?

Everyone and his dog has an opinion on that question. Here are a few:

– Doctors are retiring/aren’t being paid enough/being paid too much.
– Doctors are moving because they don’t like the new system/the old system/the lack of a system.
– The bureaucracy is misguided/cruel/bureaucratic.
– The amalgamation of the health authorities was a mistake or it wasn’t.
– More money must be poured into the system/money must be redirected.
– Recruitment mustn’t mean glorious trips for a favoured few/more recruiters are needed.
– Medical schools must allow more candidates/must make candidates stay here and promise their first born.
– Disabled people must stop taking up doctors’ time with requests for paperwork.
– Patients must stop taking up doctor’s time with minor complaints.
– People with mental health problems must “snap out of it.”
– Addicts must “just stop.”

So, as someone wisely said: this is not freaking rocket science! Fix it. Meanwhile, we’ll just be waiting around for our Robocalls.

See also: My name is… A video on the state of healthcare in Shelburne

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