This B.C. couple found a doctor by placing a newspaper ad. Others hope to copy their success

1:53:00FULL EPISODE: Is Canada’s healthcare system in crisis?

His wife had to lose an ad in the local newspaper, but Michael Mort eventually got a GP.

The 82-year-old from Victoria, BC, has needed someone to write prescriptions and checkups since their doctor retired in December.

Michael has serious heart and nerve problems. More recently, his wife Janet said there was a concern with his prostate.

So when he learned he was accepted as the new patient, he responded with an excited fist, Janet said.

And recently he was able to take the test he’s been waiting for – and begin his path to more specialized care.

“GPs give you a physical exam and from that they can make some pretty big conclusions,” she says. “That moves you to the secondary care level, which is what’s happening. We’re excited.”

What Led to the ‘Doctor Wants’ Newspaper Ads

While placing a “doctor wants” ad may seem like an extreme step – Morts are not the only ones to do so. Their decision earlier this summer inspired Gary Shuster in Vancouver to do the same thing, the only difference is that he offered a reward of $5,000.

Both cases underscore the stark reality of this country’s shortage of family doctors. In 2019, Statistics Canada reported that about 4.6 million Canadians over the age of 12 do not have a primary care provider – and provinces report that the pandemic has only exacerbated the crisis in the intervening years.

And the lack of GPs has more serious consequences than the inconvenience of waiting in a clinic or emergency room for primary care. Research has shown that patients have better outcomes when they develop a relationship with their doctor, someone who knows their family and health history and is able to follow them throughout their lives.

In reality, a study peer-reviewed by the BMJ Open in the United Kingdom found that patients with a primary care provider had lower mortality rates than those without.

Gary Shuster got the idea to put this ad for a doctor after learning the story about Morts in Vancouver. He has received at least two responses to his ad so far, but no one is interested in receiving the $5,000 reward. (Vancouver Sun)

As for Morts, they don’t want to lose that ongoing care.

After highlighting services like Telehealth, walk-in clinics, and virtual appointments, Janet Mort said she considered taking her husband to Seattle, Wash., to go to a private clinic, but the cost would be around “very big”.

That’s when she decided to go public.

“It was my last choice. We were always a really private couple. I said [Michael] if I put it in the article, all our friends and acquaintances will know your condition – it’s you I’m exposing. How do you feel about me doing that? He just said, “Janet, this is a desperate time for me, and I’ll do whatever you think we need to do to get medical attention.”

Dave Obee, editor and publisher for Times Colonist in Victoria, said it was the first time he could remember anyone paying for an ad to find a doctor.

“The best thing for me about it is the incredible response from all kinds of people,” Obee said of the Times Colonist ad. “It immediately went viral on Twitter and Facebook. It’s everywhere. It really reflects the range of problems people are having when it comes to finding a doctor. A lot of people sympathize with that.”

VIEW | What led to the crisis in primary care:

What’s behind the shortage of GPs in Canada?

Resources run out, demand never gets higher

The shortage frustrates doctors as well as their patients.

Dr Margaret Fraser, GP and emergency room physician from Cape Breton, NS, said the state of health care was the worst she had seen in her 12 years as a doctor.

Especially when it comes to finding a family doctor.

“We know people with access to good family medicine and primary health care are healthier and use fewer health care resources,” says Fraser. “However, we now have an aging generation who require more resources and have less access to primary care.”

That has a ripple effect, she said. Instead, those patients need urgent care and use “more resources there because they don’t have access to anyone.”

Precise shot of Dr. Margaret Fraser in her medical suit.
Dr. Margaret Fraser from Cape Breton Island NS, has been an emergency and family physician for 12 years. She said the state of health care and patients’ access to GPs was ‘the worst I’ve ever seen.’ (Submitted by Dr. Margaret Fraser)

Fraser said it was “terrible” that someone would have to go to the extremes that Morts and Shuster did to receive care but that it “didn’t surprise her”; she herself has not had a GP for a few years since she retired.

In a statement emailed to CBC, BC’s Department of Health acknowledged that it was aware of Mort’s situation and was “grateful” that it was brought to the attention. It also said the ministry sees many others in the province feeling the effects of “capacity challenges.”

“We know pandemic burnout is real and means that many healthcare professionals, including those in our primary care system, are not working or working less to Take care of yourself,” the statement said.

On the island10:49A GP responds to BC’s short-term plans to keep clinics open

At the end of August, the province of BC Ministry of Health announced 118 million dollars in “stable funding.” The The plan is to maintain health care until BC can create a new payment system for doctors.

Speak up, no short fix

But Fraser says there is no short-term solution to the shortage of doctors.

“It’s the number one thing people have to understand: this is not going to get better tomorrow,” Fraser said. “Fixing healthcare is not something you can do in four years. Medical schools need to ramp up enrollment and need more training placements for people coming from outside of Canada. ”

While the Morts continue to navigate Michael’s health with their new GP, Janet thinks their story should serve as an incentive for other doctorless Canadians.

“Beginning to speak up,” she said. “If you have a GP, go to the mirror closest to you and say, ‘I’m definitely the lucky one!’ Because that’s all: luck. If your doctor retires or decides to move out tomorrow, you’ll find yourself in our place – helpless and alone.”

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