Diary of Unknown Symptoms

Mystery of the Internal Vibration

Entry for June 22, 2006


Getting harder to find an MD? Who needs one when you have Google?

It’s getting harder to find an MD

Only about 1 in 10 Ontario family physicians are taking new patients, study finds

Jun. 22, 2006. 01:00 AM
ELAINE CAREY AND STEVE RENNIE
STAFF REPORTERS

The number of Ontario doctors accepting new patients continues to plummet, falling another 30 per cent since last year, says a study released today.

Only 11.4 per cent of family physicians are accepting new patients into their practices, down from 38.4 per cent only five years ago. That’s cause for alarm, said Dr. Dale Mercer, president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which conducted the survey of its 27,000 members.

The Toronto region has the highest percentage of family physicians accepting new patients at 21.7 per cent, while eastern and southwestern Ontario had the lowest, at 4.7 and 4.5 per cent.

Dr. Brian Berger, who has a family practice in Richmond Hill, says many young doctors stay out of family medicine because it’s too time-consuming. He says young doctors have other priorities, like spending time with their families or pursuing other interests.

“More doctors want to do sort of part-time family practice. A lot of people may be choosing it for various lifestyle reasons and they don’t want to burn themselves out,” Berger said.

“Family medicine is a tremendous commitment in terms of 24-hour care for your patients. There’s a lot of expectations that patients have of their family doctors.”

Berger, who practised family medicine for 25 years, says family doctors do a lot more work than many people realize. He says the paperwork alone puts tremendous demands on a family doctor’s time.

“We do work hard,” he said. “We put in a lot of hours. When you do a family practice, it’s a big commitment.”

Almost 98 per cent of the province’s physicians completed the survey, which also found their average age has risen to 51.7 years, up from 49 in 2000. By 2014, 30 per cent of physicians will be 65 years and older and they tend to work fewer hours, the study says.

As well, more family physicians are specializing in non-traditional areas such as sports medicine and psychotherapy, he said, and the number with a practice that is more than 40 per cent family medicine is plummeting.

“It is a very significant concern,” Mercer said. “This survey to my mind demonstrates very significant access issues for our health care system.”

While the government has taken steps to solve the problem, more needs to be done, he said.

The report calls for increases in enrolment in Ontario medical schools and postgraduate training spots, more incentives to go into family practice and creating a health human resources planning body.

About 48 per cent of Ontario doctors are family physicians, or about 13,000.

Dr. Mark Rotundo of Toronto’s Marlee Medical Centre says eliminating some of the more mundane aspects of the job might entice more young doctors to take up family medicine.

“A lot of it would have to be taking away a lot of the bureaucracy. The amount of paperwork is probably the biggest thing, a lot of forms you have to do for patients,” he said.

The province has already increased the pay for family doctors, added more residency training spots for medical school graduates and opened a new Northern Ontario medical school last fall.

“We just don’t have enough doctors,” said Dr. David Bach, president of the Ontario Medical Association. “Doctors are so busy they can only take on so many patients.”

Right now, there are only enough post-graduate training spots for the doctors graduating and the number needs to be increased to encourage more doctors to come here from other provinces, he said.

The government also has to find innovative ways to get older doctors to continue to practice, he said, since already more than half are over the age of 50.

The survey also found that female physicians, who make up about a third of the work force, have increased the number of hours they work and 50.9 per cent of them worked 40 or more hours last year, up from 39 per cent in 2004.

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June 22, 2006 - Posted by | Health | ,

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