An Esquimalt woman says she was devastated to find out her doctor of two and a half years was dropping her because of her age.
“It really did feel like getting dumped from a relationship,” said Fraser. “Since I was a teenager I’ve had struggles with anxiety and depression and so for me to finally get a call I had a family doctor two and a half years ago, it was a huge relief.”
That relief, turned to distress this month when she found out her family doctor with Esquimalt Medical Clinic was reducing the size of her practice, “dumping” every patient under 50.
“To get the call that I didn’t have a doctor was really devastating,” said Fraser.
In an email to her patients Dr. Sarah Truelson, one of five physicians with family practices at Esquimalt Medical Clinic, writes that a personal family crisis is behind the change. A lack of locums who take on patients in these kinds of situations, she says, is forcing her hand.
“I am not able to sustain the demands of my current full-time service family practice at this time, therefore will be closing this and maintaining a focused seniors practice,” Dr. Truelson wrote in the email shared with CHEK News.
Fraser says she’s sympathetic to the personal and systemic issues at hand, but she worries it’ll now be extremely challenging to get the care she needs at the moment, which is only going to increase.
“I’m at the age where I’m thinking of having a family in a couple of years. Will I have care then?” asked Fraser.
Esquimalt Medical Clinic told CHEK News in a statement that “generally patients over 50 have higher needs and are at a higher risk for hospitalization.”
“There are certainly complex patients below 50 that I know the highlighted GP is concerned about and would like to keep on, but the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC (CPSBC) criteria precludes them from selectively choosing individual patients or ‘cherry picking’,” said Levi Newnham, clinic manager of the Esquimalt Medical Clinic.
The CPSBC has rules which prevent a doctor from dropping a patient based on the complexity of their needs. It’s unclear if that applies to choosing to keep patients who are more complex, but the guidelines do say “the process of patient selection must be well-documented and consistently applied.”
Esquimalt Medical Clinic added that no doctor wants to drop patients, but echoed the same sentiments as their doctor, that there’s no one to absorb them.
“Patient panel reductions are increasingly common due to a number of factors including ever-increasing complexity of patient population; ever-increasing pressure, demands and expectations being placed on family doctors; insufficient compensation and support; lack of locum availability; and lack of new family doctors opening practices,” said Newnham.
As for dropping patients due to age, Doctors of BC, a voluntary association of 14000 physicians, residents, and medical students in British Columbia, says this is a first.
“We have not heard of any doctors doing this,” said Sharon Stone, a representative for Doctors of BC.
As of May, Fraser is now one of the million people without a family doctor in British Columbia.
“It’s hurtful even if it’s not discrimination,” said Fraser.
Fraser says she doesn’t blame her doctor, but instead blames the health care system as a whole.
“It’s an absolute mess. I know lots of people who don’t have a doctor right now who call walk-ins and wait hours. Others book Telus Health appointments weeks out. Things like that really shouldn’t happen, we’re supposed to have access to this kind of care.”
A family physician with Family Doctors for Patient Care in BC says this is a sign of how broken the health care system is.
“If we had effective and functional primary care, Dr. Truelson could have transferred some of her patients to another physician so they continued to receive care,” said Dr. Jennifer Lush, a family physician in Victoria.
“If this article frustrates you or makes you upset, please write your MLA about the importance of continued efforts to make primary care sustainable.”