Most Ontarians have geographical access to primary and urgent care. In a province as big as Ontario with many rural and northern areas, access to primary care and urgent care is likely to be uneven. But in a new study conducted at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) researchers found 99.6 per cent of residents had geographical access to a primary care provider (family physician and/or nurse in an independent remote nursing station) within 30 minutes.
"Although geographic access to care is quite good, further investigation is needed to understand whether care can be readily accessed, such as doctors' on call arrangements and whether they are accepting new patients,” says Dr. Rick Glazier, principal investigator of the study, and Senior Scientist at ICES.
In 2009, communities in Ontario with 30,000 or fewer residents comprised 2,588,144 people—approximately 22.7 per cent of the Ontario population.
The study found:
- Of these people, 99.6 per cent had access to a primary care provider (family physician and/or a nurse in an independent remote nursing station) within 30 minutes by car.
- All Ontario communities with a population of at least 1,000 people had access to primary care within 60 minutes by car.
- Emergency departments were accessible within 30 minutes for 97.8 per cent of the population in communities of 30,000 or fewer people and within 60 minutes for 99.0 per cent of that population.
- All Ontario communities with a population of at least 5,000 people had access to an emergency department within 30 minutes by car.
- Highly specialized hospitals were less accessible but were still located within a 60-minute drive for 72.2 per cent of Ontario’s population living in communities of 30,000 or less.
“Primary care is geographically accessible in Ontario but realized access may be much lower. Many family physicians are not accepting new patients, care after hours is limited in many areas except for the emergency departments and emergency department wait times can be very long. Canada and Ontario rank poorly on international comparisons of access to primary care. This report shows that providers and facilities are accessible to most of the population in rural and northern areas but there is still work to be done to improve access to care,” says Glazier.
Author affiliations: ICES (Glazier R.H., Gozdyra P., Yeritsyan N.); Centre for Research on Inner City Health, The Keenan Research Centre in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital (Glazier R.H. Gozdyra P.,); Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto (Glazier R.H.);
The study “Geography access to primary care and hospital services for rural and northern communites” was published January 24, 2011.
ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of health care issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting health care 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.
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