Sarah Palmer holds up a swab before administering a COVID-19 test in late December. The state announced on Tuesday that a variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 had been detected in Alaska for the first time. (Photo by Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Sarah Palmer holds up a swab before administering a COVID-19 test in late December. The state announced on Tuesday that a variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 had been detected in Alaska for the first time. (Photo by Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Canada’s ‘long-haulers’ without family doctor need primary care: medical association

At least 10 per cent of COVID-19 patients are believed to suffer from symptoms months after their diagnosis

The head of the Canadian Medical Association is urging the federal government to boost access to family doctors for COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’ enduring ongoing illness and requiring referrals to multiple specialists.

Dr. Ann Collins said people struggling with persistent and wide-ranging symptoms and without a primary care provider need a regular physician to manage their care, which will continue long after the pandemic is over.

“There’s no question that there is clear value to having a primary care physician or a primary care team who the patient can always be anchored to, and who can make the necessary referrals,” Collins said from Fredericton, where she has been a family doctor for three decades.

At least 10 per cent of COVID-19 patients are believed to suffer from symptoms months after their diagnosis, according to various studies around the world that have cited brain fog, anxiety and conditions involving multiple organs, such as the heart and lungs.

Collins said there’s a lack of recognition about “long COVID” among health-care providers, likely because some have symptoms similar to chronic fatigue syndrome, leading to further frustration for patients who are stuck in a seemingly never-ending battle with the disease.

“What strikes me is that when we talk about COVID, we talk about numbers and we talk about restrictions and we talk about deaths. And now we’re talking about vaccines. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about the people that are sick.”

Shane Kinniburgh of Woodstock, Ont., said he felt some relief that he didn’t have any symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19 last October. But that feeling lasted for only a couple of days before he, his three-year-old daughter and his fiancee were hit hard by the infection.

Four months later, all of them are still struggling through a set of different symptoms but they don’t have a family doctor to track what’s happening to them.

“It’s been a lot harder,” Kinniburgh said. “When I try to make an appointment at a drop-in clinic I have to make sure they can do phone calls or video because by the government’s regulations, I can’t go anywhere. I can’t go into a business because I have symptoms.”

Kinniburgh, 40, said his symptoms are the worst among his family members and include a blockage in his heart, hives, food allergies and an intense sensitivity to sunlight that his eyes can’t tolerate.

When he ended up in the emergency department with a racing heart, Kinniburgh was referred to a cardiologist. When he started having migraines, he went back to a neurologist he’d seen after a concussion two years earlier.

Brain fog is most troubling for him.

“You feel like you’re 90 years old with dementia. I could literally go into one room if I’m in the confusion stage and not who know who I am, where I am. And then I’m just about in tears, in a panic, trying to figure it out. And I’m a 6 foot, four guy, 300 pounds. And I’m feeling scared when those things come on.”

Kinniburgh has undergone at least four tests to monitor his heart, countless trips to labs for blood work and dangerous spikes in his cholesterol and blood pressure. He can barely get out of bed sometimes and worries about caring for his young daughter and fiancee as they struggle with symptoms including anxiety, he said.

The lack of a family doctor means having to deal with whichever physician is available at a walk-in clinic, but no health-care provider is monitoring his overall condition or has a history of his pre-COVID health status, he said.

“It’s a pain. It literally is a pain because these doctors don’t know me.”

Specialized clinics for long-haulers have opened in parts of Western and Central Canada, with some conducting studies to better understand the condition, but patients are typically not seen until three months after their symptoms begin.

The Canadian Medical Association’s pre-budget submission to the federal government in February 2020 included a request for an expansion of primary care, especially for disadvantaged, rural and aging populations with chronic conditions, but Collins said long COVID-19 has greatly amplified the need to speed up initiatives.

The association asked for a $1.2 billion funding commitment over four years to establish primary care networks across the country based on successful programs in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.

A federal budget was not tabled early last year due to the then-emerging threat of COVID-19, as lockdowns began around the country and the government cited economic uncertainty. A date has not yet been set to unveil the 2021 budget.

Health Canada did not provide information on any increase in funding specifically to expand family practice initiatives related to the pandemic but referenced a September 2020 funding agreement with the provinces and territories aimed at restarting their economies.

It includes a $700-million promise to support measures such as testing and contact tracing in response to a potential future surge in COVID-19 cases.

Statistics Canada data released last October shows 14.5 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older, roughly 4.6 million people, did not have a regular health-care provider in 2019.

Residents of Quebec were the worst off, with 21.5 per cent of them lacking a family doctor, while nearly 18 per cent of British Columbians did not have a general practitioner and 17 per cent of residents in Saskatchewan were in that situation, the agency said.

In New Brunswick, about 10 per cent of people did not have a regular doctor while Ontario had the lowest number of residents, at 9.4 per cent, who were without a general practitioner. All other provinces had a rate that was similar to the national average, the data show.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical health officer, told a news conference last month that the provision of health care is within provincial and territorial jurisdictions and that the Canadian Institute for Health Research is supporting the further understanding of the long-term impact of COVID-19.

However, she said it’s important for clinicians to recognize there’s a lot that is unknown about people who have been infected with the virus and that “we need to continue to look after and support those who’ve had COVID-19.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Letters to the Editor.
Gratitude to those who did snow removal

Sidewalks and driveways for the elderly kept clear

B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and health minister Adrian Dix wore pink shirts to showcase this year’s motto: “Lift each other up.” (Twitter/PinkShirtDay)
Fight bullying every day

Pink Shirt Day happening on Feb. 24

Nick McMaster working on a painting at Cinder and Sea. (Photo by Cole Schisler)
McMaster combines his passions for tattoos and art at Cinder and Sea

Tattoo and fine art studio located on Willow Street in Chemainus

Ella Donovan with mom Tina outside Fuller Lake Arena before heading onto the ice for practice. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Trials and tribulations of a child’s cancer diagnosis heart-wrenching for Donovan family

Young Ella’s tumour began a tumultuous time, but community support eased the burden

Neurologist and medical educator Dr. Alexandre Henri-Bhargava, seen here speaking at the 2020 Breakfast to Remember in Victoria, will delve into the latest in dementia research during an interactive research event exclusively for attendees of this year’s virtual Breakfast. Access to the March 10 research event is included with the purchase of a Breakfast to Remember ticket. (Kevin Light Photography)
Blast off with Chris Hadfield at Alzheimer Society’s Breakfast to Remember in March

The Society hopes people in all corners of the province will make the most of this opportunity

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district chosen as COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Most Read