The family doctor shortage in Canada has been in the news a lot lately, highlighting the struggle for many to find one.
An aging population, declining numbers of medical students entering family medicine, and an uptick in family doctors stopping work are all indications of a problem that is only going to get worse. Unless we do something about it.
There are many potential solutions. We need to increase the number of family medicine role models in medical school. We need to offer new grads the option of going into practice that doesn’t involve running their own small business. We need to improve family medicine pay relative to other medical specialties. We need to make it easier for family doctors to take a vacation while having their patients cared for.
But there’s one solution that comes up over and over again. We need to expand interprofessional teams.
Right now, most family doctors in Canada are small-business owners who run their own practices. They may work with a group of other doctors, sharing expenses for office space and reception staff but most run their own practice. However, few work with other health professionals like social workers, dietitians, pharmacists or nurse practitioners in their practice.
Yet the evidence is clear that family doctors working in teams with other health professionals is better for patients and better for clinicians.
Our own research has shown that patients who have a doctor working with an interprofessional team were more likely to get recommended diabetes care. They were also less likely to visit the emergency department.
Working in a team is also good for doctors. Sharing the care helps them feel more connected in difficult situations. It allows doctors to focus on the things they are best trained for. It means having someone to provide care if they can’t be there. I am one of the lucky family doctors who gets to work in an interprofessional team and I would never go back.
Family doctors working in teams with other health professionals is better for patients and better for clinicians.
It’s also good for the system. Adding other interprofessional team members can increase a physician’s capacity to care for more patients. It takes a long time to train a physician. It makes sense for that resource to benefit as many people as possible and it’s no surprise that researchers and professional organizations consider team-based care to be a building block of high-performing primary care systems.
But progress has stalled on advancing team-based primary care across the country. Ontario halted entry into its Family Health Team model back in 2012. There is now a 10-fold variation in access to team-based care across the province. Sadly, communities with the highest needs have the lowest levels of care.
So, how can we move forward?
An important step is adding the public voice to the discussion. Does the public think team-based primary care is a good idea? One worthy of government investment?
Think about your own care. Which health professionals would be most important to have as part of your primary care team? How comfortable would you be getting support from another member of the primary care team if your family doctor or nurse practitioner recommended it?
These are some of the questions we ask in the OurCare national research survey. The survey is the first phase of OurCare/NosSoins, a year-long initiative we’ve launched to hear from people all across Canada about their needs, preferences and priorities for primary care.
Join the conversation and help shape what better looks like when it comes to primary care.
OurCare.ca wants to hear from you! Take the research survey, part of the OurCare project based at MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, Unity Health Toronto. Participation is completely voluntary and anonymous. The survey is open until Oct. 18.