December 2, 2023

In a province without enough doctors, an oncologist says patients have a responsibility to show up to medical appointments, or at least call to cancel and make room for others.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc of Moncton was partly inspired to become a doctor after hearing about her parents and grandparents struggling with a lack of health care. They lived in a rural area, before medicare was a reality. Seeing how much they suffered trying to get basic care makes her appreciate the system now.

It also emphasizes how important it is to not take appointments for granted.

“People who are in the system don’t realize the impact of this, or they say, you know, ‘I missed one. What’s really one appointment missed?'”

“But it all adds up,” said LeBlanc, who’s a radiation oncologist at the cancer centre at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre.

The number of people on the waiting list for a doctor in New Brunswick has grown to more than 60,000, people have faced long waits for care, and some hospitals have been forced to curtail services at times because they don’t have enough health-care workers.

LeBlanc said she’s not trying to point the finger at people with health problems but believes it could be good for people to know that there is something they can do to help, and it could be as simple as setting up reminders, or making the call to cancel an appointment if something comes up. 

“If I’m contributing to something I’d like to know about it and my part to make it better,” LeBlanc said. “Let’s just work together and try to make this accessible to everybody.”

Up to 80 per cent no-shows

LeBlanc, who has been practising in New Brunswick for 23 years, has been “trying to connect the dots” and work on the problem of long wait-times. 

Part of a social media group of doctors from across the country, she said many have been talking about patients not showing up to their appointments. 

She said she personally also has many no-shows to her follow up appointments with oncology patients.

If there’s a last minute cancellation, there’s always someone else that can be booked.– Dr. Linda LeBlanc

LeBlanc conducted an informal survey, and doctors in New Brunswick and elsewhere reported between 25 and 80 per cent no-show rates at their clinics and practices. 

She said the highest rates were from psychiatrists. 

One Moncton surgeon said that out of 16 to 18 endoscopy appointments per week, between two and four don’t show up,  despite reminders explaining the importance of calling to cancel.

“A surgery or endoscopy, colonoscopy, gastroscopy, it’s really, really important for people to show up because those spots are limited,” LeBlanc said.

Horizon Health Network is running an awareness campaign to get alert people to the need to show up for appointments. (Horizon Health Network)

“So if there’s a last-minute cancellation, there’s always someone else that can be booked at the last minute.”

She said of these numbers are anecdotal and do not form a full scientific survey, but they still illustrate the problem.

Horizon’s anti-no-show campaign

The Horizon Health Network has developed an appointment-reminder service to decrease the numbers of no-shows.

The network’s Missed Appointments Awareness Campaign says that of the 346,000 appointments booked across Horizon in 2020, about 14,000 were no-shows. That amounts to four per cent of appointments across all Horizon hospitals and clinics.

“This affects Horizon’s ability to provide timely and quality care to its patients,” the network says on the web page. “If you can’t make your appointment, someone else can.”

Horizon did not return a CBC News request for more updated no-show numbers. 

The Vitalité Health Network was not able to provide no-show numbers for this story but sent a statement from Sharon Smyth-Okana, vice-president of clinical services.

She said letting the provider know you can’t make it as soon as possible “helps reduce wait time for patients.”

LeBlanc said forgetting about appointments is a fact of life, and “no one’s perfect,” but she hopes bringing this to the forefront will remind people of their responsibilities and the power they have to make a difference.

“These are very obvious and easy gets,” she said. “It’s low-hanging fruit.”


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