Doctor shortage makes regular care difficult
A shortage of physicians is making it difficult for patients to receive, and for doctors to provide regular and timely health care.
The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care says about 94 per cent of Ontario's population has a family doctor, but that leaves thousands still searching.
So Young Lee moved from South Korea to Waterloo two years ago. She has a home and a job, but is still looking for a family doctor and says she's frustrated.
The most recent Vital Signs Report for Waterloo Region found the number of people looking for a family doctor has gone from 6.7 per cent in 2006 to 9.2 per cent in 2009.
Across Ontario the numbers are smaller, with 8.2 per cent looking for a family doctor in 2006, while 8.5 per cent were looking in 2009.
The Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce says there are still 20,000 people in the region without a family doctor.
It's a reality faced by Priscilla Yamal, who had a hard time finding a doctor when she moved to Waterloo Region in 2010.
She says "Some people told us, if you have one in Zimbabwe, keep it. Don't lose him, because you're not going to find one in Waterloo."
Yamal finally found a doctor a few months ago, but still has to wait quite awhile for an appointment.
"We have to book two, three months in advance to be able to see him."
Both women got sick in their home countries, South Korea and Lebanon. They say it was a lot easier for them to see specialists there, than it was to find a family doctor in Waterloo Region.
Meanwhile family doctors are also feeling the impact of the shortage.
Family physician Dr. Sam Fikry says just two months after he opened his practice in September along with his wife, he had 2,000 patients.
Of the thousands who contacted the clinic hoping to enroll, Fikry says "Most of them didn't have a family doctor for five, ten years."
He's not accepting new patients now, and has 2,500 on a waiting list.
Fikry says "So if I have more patients, let's say 5,000, 6,000, nobody would be able to come back for any visit before two months, maybe three months."
Whether they face a waiting list, or a long wait for an appointment, those who need urgent care often find themselves turning to walk-in clinics or emergency rooms.
According to a 2008 report by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, there are 17,741 excess emergency room visits for people who don't have a regular doctor.
The problem is exacerbated by a shortage of doctors at the hospital itself.
Grand River Hospital's emergency department in Kitchener nearly shut down, St. Joseph's Hospital in London had to cut hours at its urgent care centre in January and a shortage of registered nurses at Stratford's Hospital meant many beds sat empty.
So the shortage, and the search, continues. So Young says "I don't know what to do, to be honest. I don't see many doctors around my home."
Coming up in part two: What's behind the shortage? Has there been any improvement over the past few years and will it keep up with the demand?