Whitehorse Daily Star

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A BUSY ESTABLISHMENT – Whitehorse Medical Services is working to revamp its phone system to cope with the sharply increasing volumes of callers.

Frenzied demand for doctors creating frustrations

When Georgina picked up the phone to make a doctor’s appointment through Whitehorse Medical Services last week, she knew, based on previous experience, the process wouldn’t be a smooth one.

By Gabrielle Plonka on September 13, 2019

When Georgina picked up the phone to make a doctor’s appointment through Whitehorse Medical Services last week, she knew, based on previous experience, the process wouldn’t be a smooth one.

After spending 40 minutes on the centre’s hold line — from which she says her call was dropped more than nine times — Georgina was finally able to reach an operator.

Then, she was given a choice: either wait until December for an appointment with her doctor, or wait nine days for a session with a doctor she’s never seen before.

“It’s infuriating,” said Georgina, who asked that her last name not be published. “You can’t just call and make an appointment; you have to take time off work to do so.”

She missed 40 minutes of work that morning while trying to make an appointment.

Because the clinic closes for lunch between noon and 1 p.m., making the appointment on her lunch break is not an option.

Last Friday wasn’t the first time Georgina experienced issues with Whitehorse Medical Services, a private clinic based downtown.

Georgina said most of her phone calls to the clinic in the last two years have resulted in long hold times or dropped calls.

She has often driven to the clinic on Lambert Street to make an appointment in person rather than attempt to reach the operators by phone.

Several Yukoners echoed Georgina’s complaints on social media recently.

On Aug. 27, a post by Roger Gillies condemned the medical centre’s lack of access.

“Whitehorse Medical Services – You are unreachable by telephone,” Gillies wrote.

“I tried to call no fewer than five times yesterday. Each time I was told to stay on the line and my call would be ‘answered in priority sequence.’

“Then after three minutes or so, the telephone system tells you to call back later and ends the call. You need to do better.”

Multiple comments on the post described similar experiences: dropped calls and struggles to maintain consistent appointments with a familiar doctor.

Whitehorse Medical Services is aware of the issues affecting the phone system and is working to resolve the issue with Northwestel Inc., a clinic manager told the Star on Tuesday. The issue is caused, in part, by the clinic’s high volume of callers.

“We’re revamping our systems to mirror the rest of the clinics in the territory,” said Bridget, who asked her last name not be published.

Bridget said the medical centre has been experiencing issues with its phone line for approximately two weeks.

Part of the issue, she said, is the extremely high number of calls which are backlogging the voicemail service.

The situation has become impossible for operators to manage, she said.

“One day, in the hour we were closed at lunch, we came back to 179 messages on the phone,” Bridget said. “It’s impossible to return all the calls and take new ones.”

Bridget said patients repeatedly calling, hanging up the phone after only a few rings or leaving multiple messages have contributed to the overwhelmed system.

The system revamp will no longer include the option to leave voicemail messages.

Bridget has worked at Whitehorse Medical Services for eight years, and says the clinic is the busiest she’s ever seen. Its 18 doctors treat hundreds of patients every week.

“We’re so busy here, some days it’s like a roar,” she said. “It’s so busy and so fast.”

Bridget said she can’t account for why the clinic’s intake has risen so drastically, but believes the territory is lacking in medical practitioners.

“I don’t think there’s enough doctors in the territory, and the practices are very big,” she said. “Sometimes, depending on who your family doctor is, the wait is a little bit longer.”

Bridget added it’s up to the discretion of the partnering doctors as to whether the clinic will hire more staff. However, the building “can only accommodate so many doctors” before an expansion would be required.

Gabrielle Thorsen-Herdes, the office manager at Klondyke Medical, said their office is similarly struggling to meet demand for medical care.

“We’re at max capacity, certainly,” Thorsen-Herdes said. “There’s a huge demand; I think it’s actually somewhat shocking.”

Thorsen-Herdes told the Star she was surprised at how many born-and-raised Yukoners don’t have a regular doctor.

She said the clinic receives “tonnes” of calls from potential new patients each day. In recent history, they’ve all been turned away.

Based on the high volume of requests, Thorsen-Herdes said it’s fair to say the territory is suffering a shortage of doctors.

Klondyke employs approximately 22 general practitioners and a handful of specialists, including two paediatricians. The clinic’s average daily roster of 230 patients adds up to almost 2,000 appointments every week.

Potential patients who call Klondyke looking for a doctor are often referred to Whitehorse’s only walk-in medical clinic, River Valley Medical.

Seema Sohail, River Valley’s clinic manager, said the constant referrals combined with tourist traffic in the summer months have resulted in a high volume of patients.

The walk-in clinic employs two doctors who treat a combined number of 70 to 80 patients every day.

“We are experiencing a very heavy load,” Sohail told the Star. “(The doctors) are on their feet all the time.”

Sohail said the average wait time at her clinic is 40 to 60 minutes, and treatment is not always guaranteed for all who walk through the door.

“We are all doing our best,” she said. “Absolutely, we (Yukoners) are short of doctors.”

According to the Yukon Bureau of Statistics, 102 resident doctors were practising in the territory in July 2019. The number includes family doctors and specialists.

Dr. Alex Poole, the president of the Yukon Medical Association, said the data on doctor shortages are “not currently clear,” but initiatives are underway to fix that.

Currently, the Department of Health and Social Services is preparing a “no doctor registry”. The registry is a result of the latest negotiations between the government and Yukon doctors.

When the registry is released, it will match Yukoners without a family doctor with practitioners willing to take patients.

If the registry shows an overwhelming number of Yukoners without doctors, the medical association and the government will assess the scale of need.

“You want to do it properly; you want the right balance of specialists and family doctors,” Poole told the Star.

“We’re generally successful at recruiting. We just have to know we’re recruiting the right mix.”

Poole hopes the registry will roll out by the end of this year.

Comments (18)

Up 0 Down 0

Ambroses on Oct 17, 2019 at 3:44 pm

As a lifelong Yukoner in my forties who has never had a doctor but found one willing to occasionally see me until the late nineties came and everyone started suffering from the shortage of doctors; I was forced to start going to whatever walk in clinics we had. I still rarely drained from the tax payer but for a blood test every five years and a biopsy only once. Twenty years ago I started being my own doctor as much as possible. Last year I decided to join forces with a licenced alternative doctor and because the government likes to ostracize us for alternative medicine, she is one who is not given the freedom of ordering me up a simple blood test.
You know big brother and big pharma like to sleep together and so I am forced to go to a walk in clinic just to request a blood test. I went there last year without an appointment and I got in after about twenty minutes and had to deal with the doctor chastising me wanting to continue with my alternative doctor instead of him....the eyeroll and the scorn. I held my own with him and walked out wishing to never see him again. I signed at the hospital to pick up a copy of my own blood results to take to my alternative doctor at last. Finally the month long ordeal is over with. Now...I go there this past week after another year and I have an appointment at the walk in clinic. I needed another blood test and I determined that this one shall probably be my final one, for a few reasons. I arrive early and they take me in an hour late. They take eight people ahead of me and only some of them had actual appointments and most of them had later appointments than mine. I am livid as I am now running late for work. Finally I am the second last person in the room and they take me (my time said 65 minutes after the time of my set appointment). I ask the doctor why my wait was so long and why others without appointments were taken first, even though most of them walked through the door long after me? She tells me that they use their own 'discretion' as to who might be most needy or sick regardless of set appointments, they can take children or elderly or whatnot first. She informs me this is what they normally do there. I look at her in utter disbelief considering everyone in the waiting room was sitting up looking normal and equally alive and most of us middle aged.
Thanks to the Government and the shortage of doctors, I have to endure a poorly run walk in clinic because they do not offer my alternative doctor the right to request a blood test for me. I pay a hefty bill to a credited doctor of my choice, when there are not many choices anyway, so they can penalize her and me in yet another way with getting just the simplest of all things...a basic blood test done. Thanks to the pharma cartel who feeds and dictates to the Feds, people like myself have to jump through ridiculous and sometimes impossible hoops, just to get the simplest basic test done.

Up 1 Down 0

Mississippi on Sep 24, 2019 at 12:49 pm

We haven't had a doctor since Dr de la Mare retired and left his patients with no doctor and no referral for a new one.

Up 7 Down 9

Dentist on Sep 18, 2019 at 6:50 pm

People mentioned in the article and negative commenters should quit their whining. Obviously you have never been to a country where there is no medical plan. If people quit going to the doctor every time they had a runny nose, or were lonely, we probably wouldn’t have these backlogs. Suck it up and wait your turn whiners and be thankful that you Live in a country where you actually can visit a doctor.

Up 16 Down 0

A Whitehorse Patient on Sep 16, 2019 at 4:21 pm

Never been to Whitehorse Medical, but I can say without hesitation that I’ve had an amazing experience so far with Klondyke Medical, and their maternity care with Crocus.

My doctor is busy, and only works two day a week and clinic, but by no means do I think he only works two days of seven. There’s ER, community care, hospital rounds. All the doctors in this territory do more than JUST clinic days. We are incredibly lucky in this territory to have hard working doctors! While yes, this territory definitely needs more doctors, I find this article makes it sound like the doctors here only work a few hours a week which is false.

Yes, it can be frustrating to not see my family doctor every time, but at least Klondyke squeezes me in with a doctor when mine is busy so I don’t need to clog up the ER with a non-emergency. I would for sure say that clinic is working hard to meet the demand!

Up 22 Down 4

Will on Sep 15, 2019 at 11:16 pm

Not sure who suggested online booking- but will we be able to go to the ER and bypass the triage nurse now too?
I think we should let the professionals build their day- and online booking isn't conducive to our aging population- who happen to be the biggest users of our health system.
Good idea in theory but so much more going into building their days than you or I realize.

Up 8 Down 30

Simple Simon said the Pieman... on Sep 15, 2019 at 10:06 pm

Simon Says - Use Google... Skip the appointment. You are 7xs more likely to die by the mere fact of seeing a doctor than by not seeing one; germs, misdiagnosis, pills and other iatrogenic effects.

Good luck...

Up 35 Down 1

Lifelong yukoner on Sep 15, 2019 at 2:43 pm

This article was poorly fact checked and is slanting against Whitehorse medical when the problem with the phones is Northwestel and the lack of medical professionals at YG.

Whitehorse Medical and Klondike Medical both work their asses off for their clients, but as the numbers above state, there simply aren't enough Drs to go around.
The "No Dr" registry was started years ago and-SURPRISE!--the government office responsible is dragging their heels cause they have no one to answer to.
How about the next article focuses on THAT instead of one woman's experience not getting to see her Dr the day she calls.

Up 26 Down 0

Michael Miller on Sep 15, 2019 at 1:20 am

Our family has gone to this clinic since the early 1980's.
I have to say it's frequently easier to visit the appointment desk rather than to call in.

The clinic provides good service however it's not as personal as I recall it being as back in the earlier days.

Up 28 Down 0

Charles Meyer on Sep 14, 2019 at 11:12 pm

While working in Tchad(Africa) I picked up a very bad Virus that affected my Lungs. After 1 Week in a Swiss Hospital I came back to Whitehorse and was referred to the Whitehorse Med Clinic. Dr Stuart knew right away the proper treatment and took care of me for many Years. Sadly she left the Clinic but the new incoming Doctor was well informed with my File. While making appointments by phone or in person I am always treated with the utmost Respect.
Thanks to everybody that works there.

Up 37 Down 2

Josey Wales on Sep 14, 2019 at 10:42 pm

Okay folks...I am participating in this.
I think we can agree that I bitch about near anything in this town.
That said...been a client at this establishment for decades and guess what?
I have no...repeat NO complaints with said facility.
My doctor is a absolute sweetheart and a pro, made a boo boo a few years back that could have been the end of me...and?
Remember well telling my doctor in ICU awaiting a medivac that I still think she rocks...cuz she does.
Every human out there can make a boo boo, I have made many in my time. Only had one staff member piss me off the entire time.
Statistically bizarre, or they just have their ducks in a row as it relates to my care...dunno?
The phone system does suck, but I prefer real contact so I stop in whilst in the core to make my appointments...old school.

Believe me folks, if I had something negative to say about this clinic...most certainly would.
But I cannot, as I know my doctor is fantastic, the staff too.
All good, shall I apologize ahead for breaking character and saying something nice?

Up 5 Down 16

Simon on Sep 14, 2019 at 1:32 pm

There’s a simple solution to the booking issue: do it online. Sign into your account, pick an available date and describe your symptoms. Press Submit, get confirmation and then show up for your appointment. If WMS simply left their ancient processes behind, they and their clients would be much better off.

Up 11 Down 11

drum on Sep 14, 2019 at 9:47 am

I was a patient of the Whitehorse Medical Centre for 28 years. I received a letter telling me that because my doctor had retired I was no longer a patient with the clinic. I contacted them and was told that when they got new doctors I would not be informed or reinstated. An ad would be put in the paper and I would have the same chance of becoming their patient as anyone else.

Up 29 Down 0

Juniper Jackson on Sep 14, 2019 at 1:32 am

I was so very fortunate to have Sally MacDonald as my doctor for 35 years or so... Over 40 years I was with Whitehorse Med. and always had the best service...Staff kind and helpful.. When you are sick, or your child is sick, you can't wait two weeks.. in all these years, I saw a Dr. within a couple of hours... I never experienced the telephone trouble mentioned in the article. As another poster said... I'm sad to hear so many complaints..

Up 29 Down 0

Will also withhold my name on Sep 13, 2019 at 9:40 pm

I'm very disappointed with the fact checking on this article. Although it does address an important issue in our territory - I will tell you that my husband works at the above mentioned clinic and he still doesn't have a schedule into mid November. Thus - although the patient is validated in their frustrations with our medical system - an appointment offered in December is simply not true.

Up 31 Down 2

Dill on Sep 13, 2019 at 7:56 pm

I think we need to have more doctors as population is rising, there is need to increase medical staff.

Up 16 Down 9

Lost In the Yukon on Sep 13, 2019 at 6:01 pm

… I beg to differ. They are the absolute worst when it comes to answering the phone. They (those that provide the administration oversite) have no idea what customer service is. My doctor left and I only heard about it through the grapevine … no notice from them, no word on who now has my file.

Up 22 Down 4

Wilf Carter on Sep 13, 2019 at 5:55 pm

My family has gone to that client since 1986 and they are great . DR Zim and Sally were great doc's. New ones are great and work their tails off to help Yukoners

Up 76 Down 0

Whitehorse Med Client on Sep 13, 2019 at 4:50 pm

I’ve been a long time client of Whitehorse Medical Clinic and personally have received excellent service. My family doctor there retired and I was transferred to a new doctor there with no issues, my prescription refill appointments have always been easy to book. The office is busier than I’ve seen before but the staff are always positive to deal with and professional. It’s sad to hear so many issues as everyone I’ve ever dealt with there works very hard.

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