Health Care System in BC

In the last few months I’ve become acquainted with the health care system in BC. I don’t like going to the doctor – who does? It generally means something is not quite right. I get nervous, even if it is about the simplest thing to which I pretty much know the answer (so why do you go? I hear you ask. I can’t prescribe myself drugs and while I am a doctor I’m not an MD so taking an educated guess at what is wrong is not quite as good as the real deal). I also don’t like paying lots at every visit, especially if it really was just for something trivial.

However, here in BC one must have health insurance. In NZ (and Sweden), your taxes contribute towards the health system (honestly I never paid much attention to this when I lived there), so you pay at each doctors visit, but typically referrals to specialists are covered, albeit you must wait, sometimes for a lengthy period, even if it is serious. Hospital stays are covered, assuming you go on the public waiting list. You can also purchase optional extra health coverage if you like.

In BC, we pay somewhere in the vicinity of $130 per person per month (I just had a conversation with M to find out actually how much we pay, but neither of us can remember the exact amount, it is simply money we don’t see, it comes out of the pay packet before you get it). When I go to the doctor here, I don’t “pay” anything i.e., I don’t pay at the doctor’s office at least. And I have been referred to a specialist here and again, I don’t pay anything there. But somehow, I feel more justified that “I pay X amount every month so I should use the health care system when I deem it necessary”, as opposed to it coming out of taxes that I don’t see, and having to pay something at every doctor visit. Weird mind set isn’t it? So far I’ve only had to wait a comparatively short time for my specialist appointments (initial appointment about 6 weeks, and next appointment for a test about 3-4 months, which compared to NZ for the same specialist appointment/tests, can take 6 months plus or so I’ve been told by Kiwi doctors). Not too bad.

However, one thing I do find weird is that if your test results don’t show anything wrong, no one contacts you. I have no idea how long many of these tests take to come back, and often when one asks, you get a rather vague answer. How long should you wait before you know everything is ok? A few weeks? A couple of months? I would prefer a quick phone call from the doctors office to say your test came back and everything is ok, rather than simply counting off the days/weeks until you think enough time has passed, so you must be ok.

I was also searching for a female GP taking on new patients (sorry men GPs, there are just some things I’d rather see a woman about). I rang about 8+ medical practices in the general area around me, and had no luck at any of them. Apparently there is a shortage of doctors in BC (Canada?). For now, I will have to continue going to drop-in clinics, where you don’t always see the same doctor, and thus it is difficult to build any sort of rapport. And drop-in clinics? I’ve never come across these before, but basically, as it sounds, if you need to see a doctor you can turn up to these drop-in places and wait. A bit like an after hours clinic in NZ, except I think a lot of people here use these as their regular doctors, given the doctor shortage. I know that is what I do currently.

So how have I found it so far? Expensive, when you consider how much comes off your pay each month – but hard to compare right now to NZ or Sweden where it is included in your taxes. The waiting times have been quite good (or so I’ve been told). The doctors have been pleasant, but I would still rather have one GP who gets to know me. And my attitude towards “using” the health care system? I will probably actually go and get checked up for something that could be a problem rather than wait until it becomes a real issue – which I think makes more sense. Being proactive is far better (and in the long run cheaper) than being reactive.

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