Number of Ottawa residents without doctors to nearly double by 2026

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As many as 318,000 Ottawa residents could be without a doctor by 2026 if urgent action isn’t taken, the Ontario College of Family Physicians is warning. That is almost double the number of Ottawa residents currently without family doctors — a situation already considered critical.

“The crisis is only going to get worse. It is going to almost double if we don’t make any changes,” said Dr. Doug Gruner, a family physician in Ottawa and a member of the board of the Ontario College of Family Physicians.

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There are currently unprecedented numbers of Ontario residents without family physicians, nearly 2.3 million across the province and 165,000 in Ottawa alone. Those numbers are anticipated to surge over the next three years.

By 2026, the college estimates that one in four Ontario residents, 4.4 million, will be without a family doctor. In Ottawa, the number could hit 318,000.

“It is clear that too many people in Ottawa will go without a family doctor unless immediate changes are made to provide supports for family doctors,” said Dr. Mekalai Kumanan, who is president of the Ontario College of Family Physicians, which represents more than 15,000 doctors in the province.

In the next few years, a large number of family doctors are expected to retire, leaving hundreds of thousands more Ontarians without doctors. In addition, fewer doctors are choosing to practise comprehensive family medicine. A recent survey by the Ontario College of Family Physicians found that 65 per cent of family physicians were planning to leave or to change their practice.

Fixing primary health care is widely seen as key to improving numerous critical issues in health care, including hospital overcrowding and long waits for emergency care.

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There have been numerous calls for changes to the primary health system to take some of the burden off physicians and make it more attractive for doctors to get into and stay in the field. Gruner said officials from the provincial government are listening, but action is just not quick enough.

Two key issues in family health care are the shortage of family health teams and the growing burden of administrative work on family doctors, who spend an estimated 19 hours a week on paperwork.

Gruner, who works with the Bruyère Academic Family Health Team, said the structure of the team where he works ­— with physicians, nurse-practitioners, a clinical pharmacist, dieticians, social workers and more — is good for patients and for health professionals.

“We provide care in the way that they are getting to see the most appropriate provider,” he said.

The College of Family Physicians is calling on the Ontario government to ensure all Ontario residents have access to family doctors who work in teams with other health-care providers.

“Having easy access to a team of health-care providers led by a family physician means patients can get the right care from the right provider — and frees up time for family doctors to focus on patients that most need their expertise,” the College of Family Physicians said in a statement.

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Right now, 70 per cent of family doctors and their patients do not have access to that kind of team support.

The Ontario government has indicated it will create an additional 18 family health teams across the province, but Gruner called that a “drop in the bucket”.

The college is also calling for the elimination of sick notes and the standardization of insurance forms, among other measures, to reduce the administrative burden on family doctors.

The growing number of patients without family physicians means many don’t get the care they need — until they face a health crisis.

When patients don’t have family doctors, cancers go undetected, diabetes and high blood pressure go unchecked, and many patients end up in emergency, said Gruner.

“It really is a crisis.”

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