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North Van walk-in clinics have longest wait times to see a doctor in Canada

The average wait time last year in North Vancouver was more than 160 minutes, the worst in Canada, according Medimap
North Vancouver medical clinics had the longest wait times for walk-in patients in the country, according to a recent ranking. | Halfpoint /Getty Images Plus

If you think the wait time to see a doctor at a walk-in medical clinic on the North Shore is bad, you’re probably not imagining it.

Walk-in medical clinics in North Vancouver recently received the dubious honour of having the longest wait times in the country.

That alarming statistic comes from Medimap, a tech company that monitors wait times at many walk-in medical clinics and allows patients to check that information online.

According to the company, at 79 minutes on average, B.C. had the longest wait times in Canada at walk-in clinics. And at an average wait time of 160 minutes – or more than two and a half hours – North Vancouver wait times were ranked the worst of the worst.

West Vancouver-Capilano Liberal MLA Karin Kirkpatrick said that’s nothing to be proud of.

“We hear about it all the time,” she said.

Kirkpatrick added it’s not just her own constituents she hears from about the problems of North Shore residents being able to access primary care.

“It’s not just the people living within my constituency. I hear from other residents across the North Shore about this,” she said.

In some cases, it’s not even possible to walk into walk-in clinics without making an appointment, and “sometimes at the beginning of the day people will go online and it’s already booked up for the day,” she said.

Some elderly patients can’t deal with sitting in a waiting room that long, she added. In some cases, family members will call an ambulance instead and get them taken to hospital.

As in many other communities, there’s a huge and growing number of people on the North Shore without a family doctor. Currently there are more than 7,600 people from the North Shore on an official government waiting list for a doctor. But the number of people without a family doctor is likely much higher.

Despite attempts to fix the problem, Kirkpatrick said she hasn’t seen much improvement in the situation. “We’re not getting any fewer people asking us for assistance,” she said.

Without family doctors, many people are forced to wait in walk-in clinics for everything from referrals for diagnostic tests to specialists, which puts even more pressure on the walk-in clinics.

Kirkpatrick added she’s not sure the urgent and primary care centres the government has opened have done much to alleviate the problem.

Recently Kirkpatrick said she tried to see a doctor through a walk-in at an urgent care centre in Victoria, only to be told to go home and phone to make an appointment for another day.

“I thought, ‘Well that’s not particularly urgent care,’” she said.

Kirkpatrick said recent changes made by the province to the way family doctors are paid is a step to attracting more physicians into practice. The changes will also pay doctors more fairly for some of their administrative costs and for spending more time with certain patients.

The downside, said Kirkpatrick, is it could make it even more difficult to get in to see a doctor.

Some doctors share that concern.

Dr. Kevin McLeod, an internal medicine specialist on the North Shore, recently summed it up with a comment on Twitter: “The new family doc payment model in BC will allow your doc to spend more time with you. They can see 3 to 4 patients per hour. Better quality care. Less rushed. That’s good. But the consequence is less total patients seen. Where do they go? Short term this might worsen things.”

North Vancouver-Seymour NDP MLA Susie Chant said access to primary care is a concern the government shares.

While Chant pointed out that Medimap's data doesn't cover every clinic in Canada (the company doesn't monitor clinics in Quebec, the North and many parts of the Maritimes, for instance), the difficulties people have getting access to care is real, she said.

“This is really important to all of us,” she said. “There’s been a lot of work done and more coming.”

Chant, a registered nurse, said she hopes the new payment model for doctors will make more of them feel valued and choose to remain in family practice.

So far “over 1,800 doctors have signed up for the new payment model,” she said.

More progress is also in the works on fast tracking international doctors to become licensed in B.C., she said, as well as using more nurse practitioners and allowing pharmacists to renew prescriptions.

Chant said those changes are all part of the puzzle, but there is no quick fix.

“It is difficult,” she said. “I think we need to give it some time.”

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