By: Jennifer Stranges, Unity Health Toronto
The number of Ontario’s family physicians who stopped working doubled during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to previous years – accounting for more than 170,000 patients losing access to a primary care provider – according to a new study.
The research, led by Unity Health Toronto and ICES and published in Annals of Family Medicine, showed nearly three per cent of Ontario’s practicing family physicians stopped working during the first six months of the pandemic.
The study comes as the healthcare system in Ontario grapples with unprecedented pressures, including staffing shortages and a surge of patients seeking emergency care.
“Nearly 1.8 million Ontarians don’t have a regular family physician. Our findings suggest things are only going to get worse, which is really concerning because family medicine is the front door to our health system,” said Dr. Tara Kiran, lead author of the study and a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto.
“The family doctor shortage is difficult for people personally, but also impacts other parts of the system. For example, when people don’t have a family doctor, they are more likely to head to the emergency room,” said Dr. Kiran, who is also a scientist at the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital and an adjunct scientist at ICES.
Researchers used data from ICES, a non-profit research institute, to calculate the ratio of total visits between March 11, 2020 and September 29, 2020 to total visits in the same period in 2019. The analysis included each family physician who had at least 50 billing days in 2019 and counted virtual appointments as well.