New health care funding should open doors to family doctors

Posted on February 21, 2023 in Health Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorials
Feb. 21, 2023.   By Star Editorial Board

If provinces use new health care funding wisely, they could ensure that family doctor’s offices are open to everyone.

Imagine the frustration of being unable to find a family doctor, that trusted health professional who can offer regular access, knows your medical history and dispenses the essential care and advice so essential to good health.

That’s the very predicament that confronts a growing number of Ontario residents. According to new research from Inspire Primary Health Care, some 2.2 million residents in the province are without a family doctor.

Needless to say, the consequences of the shortage can be dire because family medicine acts as a gateway into the complex world of health care, and provides enormous benefits for both individuals and the system.

According to a literature review by the Alberta Medical Association, an ongoing relationship with a primary care provider leads to improved health outcomes, higher quality of care and decreased mortality.

And when everyone has a family doctor, the system benefits from fewer emergency room visits and hospital admissions, with a consequent decrease in health care costs.

With a new agreement between Ottawa and the premiers, Canadians and the Canadian health care system should reap some benefits. After lengthy negotiations, the premiers this week accepted the federal government’s proposed 10 year, $46.2 billion increase in health care spending.

While individualized, bilateral agreements with each province must still be worked out, that money, if utilized properly, could go a long way toward ensuring that all Canadians have access to a family doctor.

Of particular importance to primary care, Ottawa has earmarked $25 billion over 10 years for improvements in four priority areas: family health services, health workers and backlogs, mental health and addictions, and a modernized health system.

In the last few years, medical organizations have stressed the importance of these areas because primary care is a team effort. Yet the Ontario College of Family Physicians reports that some 75 per cent of family doctors function without such teams in place.

With the new injection of cash, that can and should change. The college recommends primary care teams include nurses, who co-ordinate care and offer clinical support, and mental health workers, who provide psychological and addictions counselling and connect patients with social supports.

Clerical and support staff also play a critical role since family doctors now spend up to 25 per cent of their days handling administrative tasks – time that would be better spent on patient care.

In the interest of reducing the administrative burden, the college also advises streamlining and centralizing the referral process for tests and specialists, and connecting electronic medical records with hospitals and home and community care.

These efforts to modernize the system and improve multidisciplinary support should help to encourage young doctors to pursue a career in family medicine – a specialty that has, in recent years, seen residency spaces go unfilled as medical school graduates opt for specialties they see as less burdensome and more rewarding.

But the shortage of family practitioners is not uniform across the province: The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences notes that northern and rural regions of Ontario have fewer family physicians despite having more seniors and individuals living with disabilities.

The task, then, involves not merely making family medicine more attractive, but making it more attractive to practice in under served areas. That means providing incentives such as recruitment bonuses and relocation and housing support to physicians willing to serve those who need it most.

Now that said, not all family doctors need to be convinced of the value of family medicine. Some have already chosen that specialty, but the door is closed to them, too, because they were trained in another country.

For these individuals, we don’t need to make family medicine more attractive — we need to make it more accessible. That means improving and expediting the qualification process so that they can begin offering their services.

All of this will, of course, require an increase in funds — and that’s exactly what Ottawa and the premiers have agreed on. And if they use the new money wisely, they could ensure that family doctor’s offices are open to everyone.

Tags: , , ,

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 21st, 2023 at 4:49 pm and is filed under Health Delivery System. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply