You can put lipstick on it, but it’s still a walk-in clinic

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
November 1, 2016 - 12:07pm Updated: November 14, 2016 - 11:10am

DESPITE WHAT those in the healthcare bureaucracy would like to think, there’s no way of fixing the walk-in clinic model. They can dress it up and put lipstick on it — as the newly appointed Interior Health board chair John O’Fee alludes to, though not in those words — but they can never take it to town.

The idea has come up that allowing some people to make appointments at the walk-ins by phone through a sort of triage system would resolve some of the problem. It is true that the current system borders on inhumane — to assure yourself of an appointment, you arrive an hour before the doors open (and, believe me, that’s even less fun in winter than it is in summer), join the lineup, stampede inside when the doors are unlocked, grab a number, and wait. We call this healthcare by the numbers.

Then you sit among the coughers and hackers and wait for your number to be called. When it’s your turn, you go up to the counter and are given an appointment time, often several hours later. Those who live in town are fortunate, for they can go home and wait; out-of-towners have to kill time until their appointment.

O’Fee is a good man — I’ve known him for many years, and he’s an example of how it’s possible to be a long-time member of the Liberal party and still be competent.

But he clearly doesn’t have a full sense of how bad things are, at least not yet. He says some members of his family have recently lost their GP and face the prospect of the walk-in clinic experience, so he’ll eventually come to understand just what a poor substitute it is for having a family doctor.

Letting people phone in for appointments sounds better than waiting in line, but there are so many problems with it that not much would be solved. At opening time the clinic phone-lines would be more congested than they are during one of Peter Olsen’s pop quizzes or a CBC mug giveaway. Sorting out who deserves an appointment and who doesn’t would be a nightmare. A call-in clinic is just another version of a walk-in, even if it has an online app.

An illustration of just how out of control the healthcare system has become is the fact that Interior Health has very little clue of how many people are without family doctors. The number bounces back and forth between 20,000 and 30,000, and IH acknowledges it hasn’t been able to figure it out.

Getting an accurate number should be step one. Focusing on how to make walk-in clinics more efficient isn’t exactly a waste of time and money but it shouldn’t be at the top of the list. The family-doctor system isn’t broken, and walk-in clinics aren’t a worthy replacement.

The answer is more doctors.

* * *

We tend to get a little over-wrought at times about some of the things being said around the Kamloops City council table but we should feel blessed they’re saying them out in the open, Coun. Donovan Cavers’ remark this week about eating his shorts notwithstanding.

There was a time when City councillors much preferred the comfort of in-camera sessions to let their hair down, and regularly went behind closed doors to talk about things they had no business discussing there.

It was fun trying to cover City Hall back in those days, though. Let me illustrate with an item from the archives published in the Mel Rothenburger column, Wednesday, March 11, 1981:

Kamloops City council held a secret meeting Tuesday to discuss the issue of information being leaked to the local media, the Kamloops News has learned in a leak from a source close to Council.

The usually reliable source said concern had been expressed that information the council would rather not talk about was being provided to the press and public.

The source could not be contacted for a leak regarding the outcome of the meeting.