“Dr. Beck, do you make $6.6 million a year?” My 16 year old patient asked me as I weighed him in the examination room in the outpatient department where I work.
I looked up suddenly and used every bit of my strength not to laugh or appear to shocked.
“I don’t make nearly that much money – did you read about the doctor who makes $6.6 million?”
“No, I heard about it on the news – and then at the commercial they showed that ad about a woman becoming an activist because it will be too hard for her parents to get health care.”
“What did you think?” I asked.
“Well,” my patient said, “it’s kind of like my Mom, except that my Mom also has a sick kid and sick parents – she has even more appointments and more people to worry about. You’re not going to leave or do anything so that I lose you, are you, Dr. Beck?”
“No, not ready to retire or move just yet.”
“You probably could if you made $6.6 million,” my patient laughed, “but, seriously, my Mom said when she saw the ad that she could just see how you could get so mad that you’d stop work. Please promise me you won’t.”
“I can’t promise you,” I said. “If someone in my family became really unwell or I became unwell, I would stop work immediately. You know there are lots of good doctors, though. There would be someone to look after you.”
“Dr. Beck, it took me six months to start coming here because I was so afraid people would judge me, or ignore me. I would understand if someone was sick and you had to look after them, or look after yourself but I would not want to lose my Doctor because the government is worried about one or two doctors who make $6.6 million. I’d become an activist first.”
“What would you do to be an activist?” I asked,
“My Mom made us sign the petition to send to the government – you should get the group to write letters. I don’t think Moms should have to worry about their families not having doctors. My mom has enough trouble already. I would also go to all the government peoples’ offices and wait to talk to them. I wouldn’t get an appointment, I’d just wait because it would bother them. I’ve been thinking about it. I’ve been thinking about being an activist since the ad. ‘I voted Liberal but I didn’t vote for this’.”
“So that ad makes you feel brave enough to go out to your MPP’s office and sit and wait for them. We’ve been working to get you to feel braver for months. What did an ad do to change that?”
“Dr. Beck, the government is threatening mothers trying to look after everyone. I have to help. Also, as you can tell in these groups, I need health care.”
I finished the steps of my exam: blood pressure, weight, and a quick check for signs of parkinsonian side effects and sent the 16 year old activist back out to the group. Nothing else happened. But since I have been stuck that two small pieces of information – a doctor making $6.6 million and being an activist – had an impact on one young person.
A legacy of exchanged words is not what the healthcare system needs from the Minister and doctors. This is what happens when there is no good way for doctors and the government to solve disputes. It’s time to put a proper dispute resolution system in place, and get back to our real work of health care renewal.