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Access to family doctors varies widely across the province: ICES report


There is an uneven distribution of family doctors across the province that is impacting Ontarians access to healthcare, according to a unique geographic analysis done at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

“This report uses specialized techniques to produce maps without traditional boundaries like Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN) catchment areas and census subdivisions. Doctors and patients do not function within predetermined boundaries so this report provides important insight into the actual supply and distribution of family doctors,” says Dr. Michael Green, author of the report and senior adjunct scientist at ICES Queens.

For each of the six study regions in Ontario, seven mapping techniques were used to depict geographic variations in the supply and distribution of comprehensive primary care physicians in 2014/15. The maps provide a visual orientation to the physicians' geographic availability (their number for the population in a given area), their geographic accessibility (the travel time required to reach them) and their model of practice (family health team, fee-for-service, capitation).

“Geographic access to primary care is an important factor affecting overall population health,” says Dr. Rick Glazier, a senior scientist at ICES, author on the report and family physician.

There is an uneven distribution of family doctors across the province. Most family doctor concentration occurs in the densely populated urban areas of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and elsewhere in south western and south eastern Ontario. However, some rural settings, such as the Muskoka region, have great access to family doctors, and some urban settings, including Hamilton, Cobourg, Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie, have lower access.

Prior to 2002 there was a rapidly declining interest in family medicine within Ontario medical schools and increasing difficulty in obtaining a primary care physician. As a result, ensuring an adequate supply of primary care physicians to support delivery of comprehensive primary healthcare became a priority for policy makers, and several measures were implemented to achieve this goal. These measures

included developing new models of physician payment, introducing supports for multidisciplinary primary care models and increasing the number of medical students and family medicine residents trained in Ontario.

“This report will work as a useful tool to further the understanding of physician supply and distribution in major urban areas and across the province,” adds Glazier.

The report uses data that captured all residents (approximately 13 million) and all comprehensive primary care physicians (approximately 9,000) in Ontario.

“Geographic Variation in the Supply and Distribution of Comprehensive Primary Care Physicians in Ontario, 2014/15,” was published today on the ICES website.

Author block: Michael E. Green, Peter Gozdyra, Eliot Frymire and Richard H. Glazier.

The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy. For the latest ICES news, follow us on Twitter: @ICESOntario


Deborah Creatura
Media Advisor, ICES
[email protected]
(o) 416-480-4780 or (c) 647-406-5996

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