Since 2016, Andrew McLean has been keeping a close eye on the provincially run Patient Connect service, where people sign up in hopes of getting a doctor.
For years, the Patient Connect list was relatively stable, said McLean, a former health researcher who is completing a residency in family medicine in Fredericton.
“It’s never been anything, but it really hasn’t changed much in a few years,” he said. “And lately it’s really been that way.”
To help people facing the loss of their doctor, MacLean has put together a guide, a list of things to keep in mind when they receive the unexpected news.
An ever-growing list
The guide explains how patients should get their medical records and what to ask doctors before closing up shop. There’s even advice on where to send complaints about waiting lists for doctors.
MacLean believes the loss of doctors, even with the arrival of new doctors, has helped increase the number of people on the Patient Connect list.
“What we’ve seen since November is a pretty rapid acceleration in the pace of adding people to the list,” McLean said
According to the Ministry of Health, the list was 50,000 people in January. As of August 18, it was about 74,000 people.
The department said 67,821 people on the list were active enrollees, and 6,100 had been placed with a primary care physician but had not yet seen one.
As for physicians, in the current fiscal year 2022-23, 15 have begun practicing in New Brunswick, but 22 have left their positions.
In the 2021-22 fiscal year, 76 doctors retired or moved.
Doctors who have stopped practicing in the province include those who retire, move or become ill, said Adam Bowie, communications officer for the Department of Health.
Work is underway to connect people with primary care through the Health Link program, a service that can offer patients access to care until they find a more permanent provider, the department said.
McLean said that since releasing his checklist, he has heard from people grateful for the help.
“It gives people what I was hoping for … the sense of some level of control over their own health care and their own health records when they feel like they may have lost some of that,” he said.
I’m not sure where to turn
Don Harris of Fredericton said he received sudden notice that his primary doctor was closing the practice just two weeks after his last appointment in January.
He decided to join the Patient Connect list in March and hasn’t heard a word since.
“I don’t have major respiratory problems, but I do have problems, you have high blood pressure, things like that … so you wonder … what’s going to happen if I get really sick, you know?”
He said a resource like MacLean’s tips would be of great help.
“You’re kind of left alone,” Harris said. “You don’t know where to start. This would be a helpful type of list that you can follow and keep trying.”
While the problem was predictable, he worries that increasing physician retirement rates are putting additional pressure on the health care system.
“We understand how difficult it can be”
As McLean works on his residency, he wants people to know that medical professionals feel their pain.
“There are people already working on solutions, and I think that’s important to recognize,” he said, pointing to the efforts being made by people working to recruit doctors.
“No one wants to see a patient without care,” McLean said. “We understand how difficult it can be.
“We’re trying to find solutions. We’re trying to be helpful. We’re trying to be empathetic at a time when patients are frustrated and having difficulty accessing the system, and we share that frustration.”