Family doctor shortages threaten the health of Ontarians due to lack
of preventative care, according to new research
The Ontario College of Family Physicians says Ontarians over 50 years
of age are at greatest risk
TORONTO, Aug. 26 /CNW/ - Despite the government's many efforts to improve
access to health care, between 663,000 and 879,000 Ontarians are still without
a family doctor - including almost a quarter of a million Ontarians who are
over 50 years old - according to a new poll conducted by the Ontario College
of Family Physicians (OCFP).
"If you detect disease early, it's often easier to treat. But without a
family doctor, people don't have access to the routine tests needed for the
early detection and management of chronic illnesses," says Dr. Renée Arnold,
President of the OCFP. "This is a problem, particularly for those in the
50 plus age bracket who are more prone to illnesses like cancer, diabetes and
heart disease as they age, but are only seeking medical attention in emergency
rooms (ERs) or walk-in clinics as an urgent need unfolds."
In the past 3 years, almost half a million Ontarians have been forced to
seek medical care from walk-in clinics or the overburdened emergency room at
their local hospital because they do not have a family physician - even though
the majority of them agree they would receive better care from their own
doctor than they would from a doctor in an ER or clinic whom they are seeing
on a one-time basis.
According to the OCFP survey, Ontarians without a family doctor recognize
that not having one is a problem. For example, 24 per cent feel that not
having a family doctor denies them important access to routine physical exams
for preventative care, and others indicate they do not have access to
consistent care for major illnesses. Twenty-one per cent feel they cannot gain
access to a specialist when they need one, and others feel they do not have
access to guidance and advice for mental health issues. They also feel there
is no continuity in their medical records and that the health care system has
no knowledge of their medical history.
In fact, a recent research study by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative
Sciences (ICES) demonstrates that many adults in Ontario who do not have a
family doctor have complex chronic conditions like diabetes and heart
This is despite the fact that preventative care and the early detection
of chronic diseases is a key priority for the Ontario Government.
"Progress has been made by the Ontario government when it comes to access
to family health care, but we still have a way to go," says Jan Kasperski,
Chief Executive Officer of the OCFP. "Ontarians are very clear that they want
and need their own family doctor."
Almost all Ontarians believe the health care system in Ontario would be
improved if more emphasis was placed on family doctors providing preventative
care (92 per cent). Eighty-three per cent of Ontarians who do not have a
family physician and are seeking care at emergency rooms or walk-in clinics do
not look to either of these locations for advice that would help them lead and
maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Are Ontarians complacent about the Government's handling of the
In spite of the progress made, 90 per cent of Ontarians agree there is a
shortage of family physicians in Ontario and 72 per cent, or more than
6 million people, believe the shortage is very serious. This is an
eight per cent increase since the last time the OCFP polled Ontarians on this
topic in September 2003.
In fact, more than half (59 per cent) of all Ontarians who are without a
doctor have tried to find one. This translates into almost a half million
Ontarians searching for a family doctor, of which many are over 50 years of
Among Ontarians who are without a family doctor, one in two is concerned
about not having a doctor; and 30 per cent say they are very concerned.
Overall, 63 per cent of Ontarians say they are not satisfied with the way
the Ontario government is handling the shortage of family physicians.
86% of Ontarians consider family doctors are the most important part of
the health care system
While an overwhelming number of Ontarians feel that their family doctor
is the most important health care professional in the system, they feel their
care would be enhanced if their doctor had nurses and other health care
professionals working with them. However, the overwhelming majority
(95 per cent) say it is important that their family doctor provides the
majority of their care and coordinates the care provided by others. In
addition, many Ontarians do not prefer alternative deliveries of primary care
- such as their care being delivered by a nurse who would send them to a
doctor only when they think a physician's assessment is needed.
"The government has made strides in addressing the family doctor
shortage, but we cannot get complacent now," says Dr. Arnold. "More than
600,000 Ontarians without a family doctor is far too many. The family doctor
shortage must remain a burning priority for our government."
According to the OCFP, reorganizing the existing family doctors into
health teams will enhance the care they are delivering to patients who already
have them as their family doctor, but it will not help address the patients
who do not have a family doctor. Plus allowing nurses to provide primary care
as a substitute to doctors is not accepted by a wide margin of the public.
Ontarians need and expect more family doctors to be pumped into the system.
The full OCFP poll findings can be found on their website www.ocfp.on.ca.
The Ontario College of Family Physicians is a provincial chapter of the
College of Family Physicians of Canada and is a voluntary, not-for-profit
association that promotes family medicine in Ontario through leadership,
education and advocacy. The OCFP represents close to 8,400 family physicians
providing care for remote, rural, suburban, urban and inner-city populations
in Ontario. At the heart of the organization is the building and maintenance
of high standards of practice and education and the continuous improvement of
access to quality family practice services.
Harris/Decima Survey Methodology
Between June 19th and June 29th, 2008, Harris/Decima conducted a
provincial telephone survey of 654 Ontarians over the age of 18 years.
Eight per cent of the Ontarians surveyed do not have a family doctor. Gender,
age, employment status, language, urban versus rural, income level, education,
marital status and household size were considered in conducting the poll.
Harris/Decima conducted the survey with a confidence level of
+/- 3.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20 (total Ontario), or +/- 14 per cent , 19
times out of 20 (Ontarians without a family doctor).
(i) "The Impact of Not Having a Primary Care Physician Among People with
Chronic Conditions", Institute for Clinical Evaluative Studies
Investigative Report, July 2008
For further information:
For further information: Alison O'Mahony, Environics Communications,
(416) 969-2745, firstname.lastname@example.org; Jan Kasperski, Ontario College of
Family Physicians, (416) 867-9646, email@example.com