The Doctor Dilemma: Improving Primary Care Access in Canada

Posted on May 27, 2024 in Health Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – HEALTH POLICY
MAY 23, 2024.   Tingting Zhang

The Study in Brief

  The lack of access to family physicians is a critical issue in Canada, with millions of Canadians lacking access to a primary care provider. Shortages have been exacerbated by the pandemic, which led to notable levels of physician burnout and an increase in retirements.

  This Commentary estimates the shortages of family physicians in provinces and territories, and analyzes the contributing factors, from stress and paperwork to an ageing doctor demographic, outdated payment models and restrictive quotas on internationally trained talent.

  While necessary, simply increasing the number of family physicians will not suffice to meet the demands of a growing and ageing population. Optimizing the utilization and efficiency of existing physicians is critical. In addition, significant changes to the organization and funding of care delivery – as well as expanding the scope of other primary care providers – will be necessary to meet current and future care demands.

  Addressing the primary care access gap involves five strategies, all of which the provinces are pursuing to varying degrees. They are: 1) expanding the number of training positions and filling the unfilled residency spots with international medical graduates; 2) reducing the administrative burden for family physicians; 3) providing alternate payment models; 4) expanding the scope of practice of other primary care providers; and 5) expanding team-based models of care. Sharing best practices across the country and adapting successful strategies from other provinces can inform policies aimed at enhancing primary care coverage and access.

Tingting Zhang is a Junior Policy Analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute. She works both in human capital and health policy research. Her research interest focuses on immigration, women’s workforce development, labour shortages, and other labour market concerns. She also researches -policy issues related to healthcare in Canada such as primary care, senior care, and pharmacare.


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