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Patient registry not always a first-come, first-serve wait list, Health P.E.I. clarifies

Doctors have the right to create their own waiting lists. They may choose to take on a family member of an existing patient, for example, instead of someone off the patient registry. (The Canadian Press - image credit)
Doctors have the right to create their own waiting lists. They may choose to take on a family member of an existing patient, for example, instead of someone off the patient registry. (The Canadian Press - image credit)

The person who has been on P.E.I.'s patient registry the longest won't necessarily be the next to get a family doctor, Health P.E.I. has confirmed.

The health authority clarified the process after hearing from OmbudsPEI.

Ombudsperson Sandy Hermiston said her office was contacted by a concerned citizen who felt family doctors or nurse practitioners were taking on new patients who had not been on the registry as long as others in the same community.

That has always been the case, but Hermiston felt there should be more transparency about the process.

"We just didn't think it was clear that both family doctors and nurse practitioners have the ability to choose how they accept new patients so they don't have to go to the registry when they have room for new patients, and quite rightly so," she said.

P.E.I. Ombudsperson Sandy Hermiston says her office is not critical of the process, but felt there needed to be more transparency. (Aaron Adetuyi/CBC)

"We're not critical of that the way that works because it's the way it works everywhere. We just wanted people to understand that there were different ways of getting a doctor."

Health P.E.I. promptly clarified the information on its website, Hermiston said.

The patient registry has more than 36,000 people waiting for a family doctor, including Hermiston. The registry is useful because it gives people access to Maple — a virtual health-care service — and it gives doctors a resource if they choose to take on new patients, she said.

The updated information can be found on the Health P.E.I. website. (Aaron Adetuyi/CBC)

But doctors can also choose to bypass the registry and take on family members of existing patients, or Islanders who advocate on their own behalf.

"I'm sure that most of the practitioners here on P.E.I. are trying to clear the waiting list as well, but I mean there are really good reasons why they might have their own waiting lists and that's fine."

Laura O'Connor, a family physician on P.E.I., said it often makes sense for a doctor to take on a family member of an existing patient. But the "vast majority" of new patients come from the registry. And when doctors do access the patient registry, the patients are chosen in chronological order depending on location.

"If you were in, like, Summerside, you know, you're not going to take the next patient on the registry if they're from Souris."

The issue was brought up in the P.E.I. Legislature on Tuesday.  Green Party MLA Matt MacFarlane said patients on the registry are in limbo, not knowing when or if they will get a call. He pressed Health Minister Mark McLane to make sure the registry works "the way Islanders expect it to."

McLane agreed the system is "not perfect," and committed to improving it and reducing the number of patients on the list.