More Than Four Million Ontarians Will Be Without a Family Doctor by 2026
The Ontario College of Family Physicians is calling on the Ontario government to take urgent action to support family doctors and improve patients’ access to care. The College’s latest forecast shows a troubling trend: approximately 1 in 4 Ontarians – that’s 4.4 million – will be without a family doctor by 2026.
Last year, the College forecasted that 1 in 5 Ontarians – or 3 million – would be without a family doctor in three years. The new data points to a worsening crisis.
“It is clear that millions more Ontarians will go without a family doctor unless immediate changes are made to provide supports for family doctors,” said Dr. Mekalai Kumanan, President, Ontario College of Family Physicians.
There are several factors contributing to the shortage including the number of family doctors expected to retire, the number of family medicine graduates entering the profession, and expected population growth in Ontario. Another pressing challenge is retaining the family doctors we currently have.
As of September 2022, nearly 2.3 million Ontarians are without a family doctor – that’s up from 1.8 million in March 2020. New research, led by Dr. Kamila Premji, of INSPIRE-Primary Health Care (PHC), further shows that 1.74 million Ontarians have a family doctor over age 65, nearing retirement.
Adding to the crisis, a recent survey of family doctors by the Ontario College of Family Physicians shows nearly 65 per cent are planning to change or leave their practice. The findings align with INSPIRE-PHC’s data that shows a clear downward trend in family doctors choosing to work in comprehensive family medicine and provide the full spectrum of support that Ontarians depend on.
“When we examine this data by physician career stage, we find that family physicians of all ages and career stages are choosing not to practice comprehensive family medicine,” said Dr. Premji.
The profession is under enormous strain right now because family doctors are spending too much time on unnecessary administrative tasks and do not have the support they need from interprofessional teams to manage an aging, increasingly complex population.
The Ontario College of Family Physicians is calling on the Ontario government to protect the health of Ontarians and support family physicians by implementing immediate solutions:
- Ensure all Ontarians have access to family doctors working in teams with other health care providers. Ontarians who have family doctors working in teams have far greater access to the care they need because their physicians are supported by nurses, pharmacists, dietitians, social workers and more. Having easy access to a team of health care providers led by a family physician means patients can get the right care from the right provider – and frees up time for family doctors to focus on patients that most need their expertise. Right now, 70 per cent of family doctors and their patients do not have access to team-based support.
- Ensure family doctors are able to spend time caring for patients—not tackling unnecessary paperwork. On average, family doctors spend 19 hours a week on administrative tasks such as writing sick notes and filling out lengthy insurance forms. Simple measures such as eliminating sick note requirements and standardizing insurance forms, would mean more time treating patients.
When patients don’t have a family doctor, it means that cancers may go undetected, people miss important check-ups, and more patients turn to already overburdened emergency departments because they do not have anywhere else to go. This crisis disproportionately impacts the province’s most vulnerable, including children and seniors, low-income residents, and newcomers.
“Every Ontarian deserves a family doctor. We can work towards this by making changes to support family doctors so that they can focus on caring for their patients,” said Dr. Kumanan. “It’s not too late for the Ontario Government to change course and take immediate steps to provide support to family doctors to ensure patients can get the best care possible.”
About the Ontario College of Family Physicians
The OCFP represents more than 15,000 family doctors who support Ontarians in both urban and rural communities in our province. Our members have direct insight into the unique healthcare needs of Ontario’s varying populations. With their guidance, and together with our family physician members, the OCFP has developed three overarching solutions for Ontario parties to implement post-election that will increase access to care for more Ontarians.
Director, Communications, OCFP