Report addresses need for family MDs

Increasing the number of practising physicians is the key to reaching a goal that would see nearly all Canadians with their own family doctor by 2012, according to a new report.

TORONTO — Increasing the number of practising physicians is the key to reaching a goal that would see nearly all Canadians with their own family doctor by 2012, according to a new report.

The report entitled The Wait Starts Here was released Wednesday by the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the Canadian Medical Association, who formed the Primary Care Wait Time Partnership to explore these issues.

Increasing the capacity of existing family physicians is also cited as a way to reach the target. The partnership’s goal is for 95 per cent of Canadians in all communities to have their own family doctor within the next two years.

An Ipsos-Reid poll of more than 1,000 adults conducted for the CMA found that roughly 17 per cent of respondents didn’t have a family doctor. Among the 82 per cent that did, 51 per cent were concerned about the length of time it takes to get an appointment.

Dr. Cathy MacLean, president of the college, said increased enrolment in medical schools and a rise in the number of doctors choosing family medicine are both steps in the right direction towards reaching the 2012 target.

“I also think that family physicians are looking at practice redesign and trying to work in teams and in other ways to try and increase access for more patients in the practice,” she said in a teleconference with reporters.

“I think we still have concerns about the overall health-human resource planning for the country, and the distribution of physicians because this vision statement specifically indicates that it’s a 95 per cent target for Canadians in each community to have a family physician for 2012, so we still have some work to do.”

MacLean said the partnership believes that addressing wait time issues so that people have speedier access to their family doctor is also important in achieving the target.

“Our main goal with the release of this report is to highlight the need to better track wait times along the patient’s full continuum of care and work to minimize those waits,” she said.

“We believe that implementation of the report’s recommendations will help address the wait times issue and improve timely access to care for patients as well as further enhancing the use of interprofessional health-care teams, exploring new models of health care and ensuring required supports for family physicians are in place.”

A recent report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that the number of doctors in Canada has risen over the last several years, and the rate of increase has been more than the rate of population growth.

There was an eight per cent increase across Canada in the number of active physicians between 2004 and 2008, while the population grew by 4.3 per cent.

Dr. Anne Doig, president of the Canadian Medical Association, says she believes having more hands on deck is part of the solution, but admits it’s a complex problem to address the mix of availability of physicians in the field. “It relates to changing elements of how the workforce is actually performing its duties, and how perhaps some of the aging physicians who are ready to retire are gratefully heaving a sigh of relief and reducing their capacity,” she said.

“So the surge of new physicians is a very welcome change in the most recent past, but it is catch-up rather than new bodies on deck.” The new report builds on an interim report released last year aimed at generating discussion and agreement on ways to improve timely access to primary care.

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