Canadian Medical Association

Over the past few weeks, examples of the challenges patients face in finding a family doctor have multiplied across Canada. Both family doctors and those seeking care are sounding the alarm bells. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is urging key stakeholders to work together to address the structural issues that are decimating primary care across the country.

Family physicians provide comprehensive patient support, ensuring patients have continuity of care and the help they need to navigate our complex health system. The lack of access to family doctors is a growing crisis. 

Statistics Canada reported in 2019 that approximately 4.6 million Canadians did not have regular access to a primary care provider. And there is a concerning supply and demand gap developing: in December 2021, 2,400 family physician positions were advertised on government recruitment websites across Canada. In 2020, however, just over 1,400 family physicians exited the postgraduate training system to enter practice. This trend isn’t new: in the six-year period between 2015 and 2021, the percentage of medical graduates choosing family medicine fell from 38.5% to 31.8%. Meanwhile, the average age of today’s family doctors is 49 years. 

Family physicians face immense pressure. Whether it is administrative tasks such as updating electronic medical records, completing medical forms, coordinating care across multiple agencies and providers, or managing increasingly complex care plans for an aging population, the expectations of family physicians are at all-time high. Many also work in hospitals, in long-term care facilities and in specialized areas of practice including obstetrics, anesthesia and emergency medicine that take time from office practice. Without access to family doctors, patients turn to emergency departments, overwhelming other parts of the health care system.  

Family medicine is the foundation of our health care system. We need federal leadership and collaboration with provinces and territories to reimagine family medicine and move to interdisciplinary team-based care. This will improve efficiency, increase health system capacity and better meet the needs of patients and physicians in a holistic, responsive and timely manner. 

The CMA is calling on governments to partner with family doctors to find solutions, including the creation of a nationwide data framework to better assess and project future family medicine needs across the country and the implementation of a national licensure model to facilitate the mobility of the current workforce between provinces.

Dr. Katharine Smart
President, Canadian Medical Association

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