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Identification of physicians providing comprehensive primary care in Ontario: a retrospective analysis using linked administrative data

Schultz SE, Glazier RH. CMAJ Open. 2017; 5(4):E856-63.

Background — Given the changing landscape of primary care, there may be fewer primary care physicians available to provide a broad range of services to patients of all age groups and health conditions. We sought to identify physicians with comprehensive primary care practices in Ontario using administrative data, investigating how many and what proportion of primary care physicians provided comprehensive primary care and how this changed over time.

Methods — We identified the pool of active primary care physicians in linked population-based databases for Ontario from 1992/93 to 2014/15. After excluding those who saw patients fewer than 44 days per year, we identified physicians as providing comprehensive care if more than half of their services were for core primary care and if these services fell into at least 7 of 22 activity areas. Physicians with 50% or less of their services for core primary care but with more than 50% in a single location or type of service were identified as being in focused practice.

Results — In 2014/15, there were 12 891 physicians in the primary care pool: 1254 (9.7%) worked fewer than 44 days per year, 1619 (12.6%) were in focused practice, and 1009 (7.8%) could not be classified. The proportion in comprehensive practice ranged from 67.5% to 74.9% between 1992/93 and 2014/15, with a peak in 2002/03 and relative stability from 2009/10 to 2014/15. Over this period, there was an increase of 8.8% in population per comprehensive primary care physician.

Interpretation — We found that just over two-thirds of primary care physicians provided comprehensive care in 2014/15, which indicates that traditional estimates of the primary care physician workforce may be too high. Although implementation will vary by setting and available data, this approach is likely applicable elsewhere.

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