This British Columbia 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?

It took his wife an ad in the local paper, but Michael Mort eventually found a family doctor.

The 82-year-old man from Victoria, British Columbia, needed it to write prescriptions and perform physical exams since his doctor retired in December.

Michael has serious heart and neurological problems. More recently, his wife Janet said there have been concerns about his prostate.

So when he found out he had been accepted as a new patient, he responded with an excited fist pump, Janet said.

And he was recently able to pass the exam he was waiting for and embark on the path to more specialized care.

“Family doctors give you a physical exam, and from there they can draw some pretty huge conclusions,” she said. « It takes you to the secondary care level, and that’s what’s happening. We’re thrilled. »

What led to a « doctor wanted » newspaper ad

While placing a « wanted by doctor » ad, this may seem like an extreme step – the Dead aren’t the only ones doing this. Their decision earlier this summer inspired Gary Shuster in Vancouver to do the same, the only difference being that he offered a $5,000 reward.

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

And the consequences of not having a family doctor are greater than the inconvenience of having to wait in a walk-in 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 medical history and can follow them throughout their life.

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

Gary Shuster came up with the idea to place this ad for a doctor after learning the story of Deaths in Vancouver. He has received at least two responses to his ad so far, but no one is interested in collecting the $5,000 reward. (Vancouver Sun)

For the Dead, they didn’t want to lose this continuity of care.

After embarking on services such as telehealth, walk-in clinics and virtual appointments, Janet Mort said she plans to fly her husband to Seattle, Wash., to go to a private clinic, but that the expenses were going to be « huge ».

It was then that she decided to go public.

« It was my last option. We’ve always been a very private couple. I said [Michael] if I put it in the newspaper, all our friends and acquaintances will know your condition – I am exposing you. What do you think I do that? He just said, ‘Janet, these are desperate times for me, and I’ll do whatever you think we need to do to get medical attention.' »

Dave Obee, editor and publisher for the Times Colonist in Victoria, says it’s the first time he remembers anyone paying for an ad to find a doctor.

« The most amazing thing to me about this was just the incredible response from all kinds of people, » Obee said of the Times Colonist ad. « It was all over Twitter and Facebook immediately. It was all over. It’s really reflective of the scale of the problem people are having finding doctors. A lot of people sympathized with that. »

WATCH | What led to the primary care crisis:

What’s behind the shortage of family doctors in Canada?

Resources depleted, demand never higher

The shortage frustrates doctors as well as their patients.

Dr. Margaret Fraser, a family physician and emergency physician from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, says the state of health care is the worst she has seen in her 12 years as a doctor.

Especially when it comes to finding a family doctor.

« We know that people who have access to good family medicine and primary care are healthier overall and use fewer health care resources, » Fraser said. « Yet we now have the aging generation that needs more resources and has less access to primary care. »

It has a ripple effect, she says. These patients end up needing emergency care instead and using « more resources there because they just don’t have access to anyone. »

A photo of Dr. Margaret Fraser in her medical gown.
Dr. Margaret Fraser is originally from Cape Breton Island, NS, and has worked as an emergency room and family physician for 12 years. She says the state of health care and patient access to family doctors is « absolutely the worst I’ve seen. » (Submitted by Dr. Margaret Fraser)

Fraser says it’s « terrible » that someone has to go to the extremes that Morts and Shuster did to receive care, but that « doesn’t surprise her »; she herself has been without a family doctor for a few years since hers retired.

In an emailed statement to CBC, the British Columbia Ministry of Health acknowledged that it was aware of the death’s situation and « appreciated » that it had been brought to its attention. He also said the ministry realizes that many other people in the province are feeling the effects of « capacity challenges ».

« We know the burnout due to the pandemic is real and means that many healthcare professionals, including those in our primary care system, are not working or working less to care for themselves, » says the press release.

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

In late August, the provincial government of British Columbia the Department of Health announced $118 million in « stabilization funding ». The the plan is to maintain health care until BC can create a new payment system for doctors.

Talk, no short fix

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

« That’s the first thing everyone has to understand: it’s not going to get better tomorrow, » Fraser said. “Fixing health care is not something you can do over a four-year term. Medical schools need to increase enrollment and there need to be more training positions for people coming from outside of Canada.

As the Dead continue to manage Michael’s health alongside their new family doctor, Janet thinks their story should serve as motivation for other Canadians without a doctor.

« Start talking, » she said. « If you have a family doctor, go to your nearest mirror and say, ‘I’m sure I’m lucky!’ Because that’s all: luck If your doctor retires or decides to move tomorrow, you will find yourself in our shoes, helpless and alone.


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