The waiting list for an appointment with a medical specialist in Quebec has increased by nearly 50 per cent since the start of the pandemic, Radio-Canada is reporting.
Patients can expect to wait 12 months on average to see a specialist, according to data from the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS) obtained by Radio-Canada.
Based on data from the MSSS, the waiting list at the Centre de répartition des demandes de service (CRDS), which directs patients to specialists in their region, exceeded 720,000 requests in May, a peak since the start of the pandemic.
More patients are being forced to wait longer than they would have 20 months ago, whether they want to see a dermatologist, an allergist-immunologist, a gynecologist or a gastroenterologist.
For all specialties, the average wait for an appointment was close to nine months in September 2020. It now exceeds 12 months, and for ophthalmology, the wait is closer to two years.
Dr. Sylvain Dion, first vice-president of the Federation of General Practitioners of Quebec (FMOQ), says this situation is untenable.
"We can always live with three to six months [of waiting] but at 12 months, it's really gone too far," he said. "The patient will come back to see us a few times during the year to talk to us about a health problem for which we've already reached our limit."
Quebec has nearly 11,000 medical specialists and slightly fewer general practitioners.
"When the government asks family doctors to see their patients within 72 hours while I'm told the wait time is 12 months [to request a specialist for a health issue], it's almost a double standard," Dion said
Dr. Serge Legault, vice-president of the Federation of Medical Specialists of Quebec (FMSQ), says he believes up to 12 per cent of the CRDS waiting list for surgeries alone contain duplicate requests. Considering other ways of providing medical consultations could help alleviate the backlog, he said.
"In gastroenterology or hematology, for example, simply giving advice over the phone or electronically could replace [in-person] consultation and avoid a long wait for the patient," Legault said.
In a recent interview from the medical journal Profession Santé, a senior MSSS official recognized that there was much progress to be made at the CRDS, particularly with respect to technology.
Radio-Canada's sources say Quebec and the two medical federations are developing a major plan to improve the functioning of the referral system to medical specialists.