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article imageDoctor Shortage In Northern Ontario Special

By Daniel Lick     Jul 20, 2010 in Health
Dryden - A hospital in Northern Ontario has difficulties finding enough doctors to meet the community's needs, but innovative new programs are filling the gap.
The further you live from a large population center, the less access you have to health care. That's always been an issue for people living here in the north.
At one time there was several clinics and a bustling hospital in Dryden. Over the last few years, however, most of the clinics have closed and doctors moved away, leaving a health care system struggling to provide for local residents. As I write this, the town's surgeon is packing his bags to leave.
You cannot get a family doctor here. The few doctors left are not taking new patients. A simple ultrasound has a 6 week wait. For a surgery consult, you better be prepared to wait 6 months.
In practice, more and more patients are being sent to other cities for treatment, Thunder Bay or Winnipeg. You make the 400 mile trip on your own and the province reimburses you for your travel expenses.
The shortage of doctors has led to several attempts at managing the patient load, generally by creating a lottery of one sort or another. The lucky patients get in to see a doctor, the unlucky ones don't. When you eventually do get in to see a doctor, you still have the long wait times for diagnostic tests.
To meet the demand for health care, nurses have expanded their range of services. The nurse practitioner concept allows nurses to fill the role of family doctor. There are advantages to this system, as nurses are more likely to have the time to talk to their patients and gain background knowledge about them.
A Family Health Team has also been organized to take more of the burden off doctors, allowing them to concentrate on more critical tasks. The team is made up of nurse practitioners, registered nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, family mental health counselors, and program assistants.
Chuck Schmitt, the hospital's Physician Recruiter, told me that the doctor shortage in the hospital is recognized and steps are being taken to remedy the situation. Chuck has been working hard to recruit doctors and bring staffing levels up to optimum levels.
He says the province does pay significantly higher wages to physicians working in the north, and adds that a substantial signing bonus is offered to doctors that move to Dryden to work.
To deal with the lack of a resident surgeon, the hospital is in the process of arranging for several regional surgeons to come on a rotational basis.
Chuck does admit that they have only 2 emergency room doctors at this time and they would like to have 5 to 7, but adds that wait times in the Dryden Hospital are lower than in Toronto, or most other Ontario hospitals.
He goes on to say that the highly successful nurse practitioner program is being expanded to include more patients.
While at the hospital, we looked in on the Oncology Unit, providing chemotherapy and support for cancer patients. It seems very impressive for a hospital of this size, and well suited to the high cancer rates in this area.
Oncology Unit
Oncology Unit
Chuck also showed me the state-of-the-art CAT Scan and digital imaging equipment the hospital utilizes.
CAT Scan
CAT Scan
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