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More family doctors needed in Canada, report urges

Posted Dec 03 2009 12:00am
Canada should aim to ensure 95 per cent of people in every community have a family doctor by 2012, urge the Canadian Medical Association and the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

The groups, which banded together two years ago to form the Primary Care Wait Time Partnership, say in order to reach this target, the country needs to increase the number of family doctors practising in Canada while also increasing the capacity of existing family physicians.

In a report released Wednesday, entitled "The Wait Starts Here", the groups note that reports on wait times have focused mainly on access to specialty care, such as MRI diagnostics. But attention also needs to be paid to the ongoing problem of a shortage of family doctors, they say.

"Canada has seen solid effort at measuring and mitigating wait times for patients to access high-quality specialty care," Dr. Anne Doig, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said in a statement.

"We must never forget that, while patients may see many specialists for a variety of problems, family physicians play a critical role in managing and linking that care."

According to recent public opinion research the Partnership commissioned from Ipsos, 17 per cent of respondents do not have a family doctor. That works out to about 4.1 million Canadians aged 12 or older.

The survey also found 84 per cent were either very or somewhat concerned about the number of people lacking a family doctor.

Of those who do have a family doctor, about half said they were concerned about how long it can often take to get an appointment with their family doctor. Dr. Cathy MacLean, President of The College of Family Physicians of Canada, says that finding was interesting.

"The fact that about half of our patients feel confident they can get to see their doctor when they need to speaks to the fact that family physicians do all they can to provide care for their patients when they need it," she said.

To help address the issues raised by the survey and ongoing concerns over lengthy waits to see family doctors, the groups make a number of suggestions for change, including:

  • finding ways to have medical schools encourage students to choose family medicine
  • increasing training opportunities for qualified international medical graduates
  • providing incentives in physician contracts for them to take on more patients
  • finding ways for family doctors to streamline their practice so they can take on more patients, including with the use of more family practice nurses, more physician assistants and electronic health records.
"Canada must move now to increase the supply of family physicians," said Dr. Lydia Hatcher, co-chairwoman of the Primary Care Wait Time Partnership.
"If we are to address Canada's serious challenges in providing timely access to care we simply need more hands on deck."

A report released just last week from the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that the number of doctors in Canada has increased over the past five years. The physician-to-population ratio grew to 195 physicians for every 100,000 Canadians in 2008, from 189 per 100,000 in 2004.

But many of those doctors are not choosing family medicine. And Dr. Robert Ouellet, past president of the CMA, noted that more doctors does not necessarily translate into more access.

"They counted the numbers of doctors but they didn't count how many hours they put in, or calculate how well the system works," he told The Globe and Mail last week. "We need more doctors but we also need to give them the tools to practise efficiently."

What is your opinion? Please leave us your comment.

Source: CTV News

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