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LETTER: Family doctor model is broken

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Dear Editor: A debate between Health Minister Haggie and various health care providers is getting a fair bit of column space in these pages.

Perhaps it is time to hear from some other participants in the health-care industry in this province, the taxpayers who pay for it.

No doubt in the mind of this taxpayer, the family doctor model in Newfoundland and Labrador is broken. We lost our GP in 2012 when he decamped to Nova Scotia. We went five years with no family physician. When we needed a referral for physiotherapy or orthotics we could sit in the emergency room for three hours or go to the walk-in clinic on Blackmarsh Road if we happened to be in St. John’s. Is that the family medicine model we are supposed to admire?

When a new family physician did come to Corner Brook, would-be customers — I mean patients — had to play an idiotic game of telephone roulette to try to get on the list. This is a government service, totally paid for out of public revenues, yet the health authorities excuse themselves from any involvement in allocating the service — no waiting list, no priority patients.

Then through the Public Health nurse who gave us our flu shots we heard about a nurse practitioner. We first went to her to get a shingles immunization. She told us she could provide almost all the medical services provided by physicians except for ordering an MRI. We found through several visits that our nurse practitioner actually took the time to talk to us about our overall health and health concerns.

However, we had to pay a fee for this good service. Nurse practitioner services in Corner Brook are covered neither by MCP nor by my employer’s medical plan. Why are nurse practitioner services not covered by the N.L. MCP? Surely nurse practitioners do not command higher fees than licensed physicians? Bringing nurse practitioners into the MCP system, not just in rural areas but in towns like Corner Brook and other communities where many people cannot find a family physician would help relieve the physician shortage and make quality front-line medical care more affordable for our fiscally challenged government.

Speaking of relieving the pressure on family doctors and on the provincial budget, it is time to moderate the abuse of what is clearly perceived as a free good by the N.L. public. People lucky enough to have a family doctor over-use the service because there is no charge for it. A moderate fee for a doctor visit, say $20 or $25, would make people think twice about running to the doctor every time they have a bad cold. People below the poverty line could be exempt from the fee. The added revenue would help the department of health provide an equitable and even level of medical care to all citizens in the province, instead of providing free doctor visits to some people and leaving others to languish in the emergency room or pay $45 out of their own pockets to see a nurse practitioner.

John Lubar, Corner Brook

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