Take the survey: What are your priorities for primary care?

Op-ed in Healthy Debate by Dr. Tara Kiran

Do you have a family doctor or nurse practitioner that you can talk to when you need care or advice about your health?

Even before the pandemic, 15 per cent of people living in Canada said the answer was no. And unfortunately, all indications are that things have gotten worse.

New research from our team published this week shows that the proportion of family doctors who stopped work nearly doubled in the first six months of the pandemic compared to the previous decade. Other research we’ve done found that in 2021, almost 20 per cent of family doctors in the Toronto-area are thinking of closing their practice within the next five years.

Now, two and a half years into the pandemic, there are many anecdotal reports of doctors leaving practice. The reasons are varied and relate to burnout, administrative overload and general “moral distress” at not being supported to deliver the kind of care they want to.

At the same time, fewer medical students are choosing family medicine and even those that do are less likely to work in a practice where they commit to providing comprehensive care for a panel of patients that they see for the long term.

These problems don’t affect everyone in the same way. We found that the proportion of family doctors who stopped work was much higher in some communities, including rural communities in Northern Ontario and near Georgian Bay. Our research has shown that new immigrants and people living in low-income neighbourhoods are less likely to be meaningfully connected to a family doctor. So are people with Opioid Use Disorder and those recently incarcerated – two groups of people who have higher health needs.

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