As a youngster and throughout my adult life, I always had easy access to excellent Family Physicians. However, upon my retirement from the Ontario Public Service when I moved to Ottawa from Kingston in 1998, I experienced my one and only severe manic episode at the age of 54. And that’s when I encountered a major obstacle. In addition to my urgent need for medical assistance regarding my emerging major mental health BD problem (of which I was in full denial), I needed to renew my high blood pressure prescription but was no longer being regularly followed-up by a Family Physician.
Luckily, I found an available doctor in Ottawa on my own initiative. Soon afterwards, as my manic symptoms further escalated, I was committed to a psychiatric hospital. Upon my discharge from hospital, I resumed my regular visits to this same Family Physician in addition to attending follow-up interviews with a psychiatrist and a psychologist for one year.
And now 19 years later, I’ve been recently informed by my Family Physician that he would be imminently retiring. What a nerve-wrecking incident for anyone who values his patient-doctor relationship, especially for someone who lives with a mental health problem! Thank goodness that a year earlier my doctor had informed me that he was already considering taking his retirement within twelve months or so.
Now, what could I do to find another Family Physician? Fortunately, my doctor instructed me to immediately solicit the assistance of Ontario’s Health Care Connect Program in finding a new Family Physician. This program was created in 2009 by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to help individuals find a doctor or nurse practitioner if they don’t have one. They can be reached online at ontario.ca/healthcareconnect or by phone at 1-800-445-1822. To register, the applicants must have a valid OHIP card and complete a health questionnaire to determine their need for health care services. Priority is given to individuals who have greater health needs.
The day following the receipt of my doctor’s notification, I called Ontario’s Health Care Connect. After providing their representative with brief highlights of my medical history at her request, she informed me that within two weeks I would be receiving a package of information plus the name of a Care Connector who would help me find an alternate Family Physician. She clearly stated that this program could not guarantee that a physician would be found for me but added that priority would be given to those who have greater health needs.
So here I found myself in a sit-and-wait position. I didn’t like being left in this position. The following day, I contacted the medical clinic where my spouse’s doctor was located. Unfortunately, I was informed that they weren’t accepting new patients.
Within a week of my initial telephone contact with Ontario’s Health Care Connect, I received a letter from them providing me with detailed information about the range of services they could provide me with. The day following the receipt of this letter, I spoke with my assigned Care Connector who kindly informed me that he would be immediately referring my case to a doctor who accepted new referrals within close proximity of my home. However, it may take approximately three to four months before I finally discover whether or not this particular physician would want to accept me as a patient or whether or not I would want him or her to be my Family Physician. Wow, was I some surprised by the long waiting period before I could affirm that I’d been assigned to a new doctor! But at least, I found some comfort and solace in the fact that I had at least been referred to one.
Furthermore, thank goodness that I still had one final appointment with my current bilingual Family Physician prior to his imminent retirement. When I met with him, he agreed to provide me with an adequate supply of medication to cover the period until I was officially accepted by another Family Physician. Due to my mental and physical medical conditions (in 1998, I was diagnosed with having a type 1 bipolar disorder and in 2008, I had a minimally invasive single heart bypass), it was vital for me to be provided with my required medication. Since I also had an imminent appointment with my cardiologist, he ordered an exhaustive blood and urine analysis.
I’ll be the first to admit that, after 19 years of being a patient of this competent doctor who provided me with excellent professional care, it was emotionally difficult for me to say goodbye. I wished him the most enjoyable of retirements and thanked him profusely for everything that he did for me as his patient.
Ten days after this final visit, I found myself in the office of a new bilingual Family Physician, who upon reviewing my medical history with me, agreed to accept me as his patient. Wow, was I some relieved! My next moves now consisted of waiting for the results of the blood tests before making arrangements with Records Management Ltd. to transfer my medical records to my new Family Physician upon the official retirement of my current physician. This agency can be contacted on line www.recordsregistry.ca or by phone at 1-800-775-0093. Furthermore, I planned to advise my cardiologist and pharmacist of my new doctor’s contact information.
Thanks to the assistance of my former Family Physician and Ontario’s Health Care Connect, I consider myself very fortunate to have been successful in finding a new Family Physician in such a relatively short period of time. Upon giving it further thought, I now strongly suspect that the delicate nature of my physical and mental medical conditions may have given me an edge in being assigned to a new Family Physician. For once, I guess I can say that my medical conditions seemed to have worked in my favour.
Raymond D. Tremblay (Ottawa, ON)