Opinion: We need bold reform to fix family health care

Op-ed in The Globe and Mail by Dr. Tara Kiran

Access to health care should be based on need and not on one’s ability to pay. Time and again, people in Canada have reaffirmed this as a fundamental value we share.

But, as it stands, too many people don’t have access to care when they need it – especially from a family doctor. This needs to be top of mind for our elected leaders when they meet this week to discuss the future of health care funding.

This past fall, a team of researchers heard from more than 9,000 adults in Canada who responded to the OurCare national research survey about their experiences with family doctor care and what they want to see in a better system. The survey was the first phase of OurCare, a 15-month initiative to engage the public about the future of family physician care in Canada.

More than one in five people reported not having a family doctor or nurse practitioner who they can talk to when they need care or advice about their health. Extrapolated to the population of Canada, that’s more than 6.5 million people aged 18 and over who don’t have access to a family physician.

Family doctors are the gateway to the health care system. We are the first point of contact when something is wrong, we provide care for ongoing illnesses, and prevent problems from developing in the first place. When people don’t have a family doctor, everything else falls apart: Emergency departments become crowded, there are more missed or delayed diagnoses, more illnesses and immense frustration.

The problem is worse for some than others. In our survey, greater numbers of men, people with a low income and people who are racialized reported not having a family doctor. Some of the biggest differences in access to care were by region, with more than 30 per cent of respondents in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces reporting not having a family doctor, compared to 13 per cent in Ontario.

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