Background — Policy-makers interested in the supply of doctors in Canada have recently begun focusing attention on older physicians. This study informs the policy debate by analysing the practice patterns of Ontario physicians aged 65 years and over.
Methods — A cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis of physician claims data for fiscal years 1989/90 through 1995/96 was conducted. The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) physicians by age category, urban or rural status, and specialty was calculated by means of an established method, and differences between older physicians, established physicians and recent graduates (in practice for 5 years or less), in terms of the types of services provided and patients seen, were examined.
Results — The proportion of FTE physicians aged 65 or more increased from 5.3% to 7.0% during the study period, whereas the proportion of recent graduates decreased from 19.6% to 16.3%. Of the older physicians, 61.4% practised part time (less than 1 FTE). Half of the physicians aged 75 in 1989/90 were still in practice 6 years later. Older physicians were less likely than those under age 65 to practice obstetrics (4.6% v. 16.9%), provide emergency department services (1.1% v. 14.8%) or house calls (38.7% v. 60.4%), or perform many minor procedures (38.7% v. 62.3%) (p < or = 0.001 for all comparisons). Older physicians tended to be male and had older patients in their practices than did younger physicians. Rural regions had higher proportions of older specialists.
Interpretation — Ontario's physician corps is aging. This may result in decreasing availability of obstetrics and emergency department coverage in the future. Encouraging retirement may create more openings for recent graduates, but if such policies are enacted, special attention should be paid to ensure that rural communities and older patients continue to be served.
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Health human resources
Health care services
Health care evaluation