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Study reveals the impact of not having a primary care physician


A new report from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) reveals that not having a family doctor leads to more emergency room visits and hospital admissions for those who have chronic diseases in Ontario. The report comes on the heels of a report from the OMA that found since 2003, doctors have helped provide care to 630,000 patients who didn’t have a doctor previously, leaving 850,000 Ontarians without a doctor.

“Recently, there has been some progress made in getting more people access to a family doctor, but it is clear that we must stay vigilant with our efforts or else we will continue to drain precious health resources and force patients to suffer unnecessarily,” noted Dr. Ken Arnold, a family physician from Thunder Bay and President of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA). “The lack of access to a family doctor, especially for those with chronic diseases, negatively impacts the quality of life of patients and places unnecessary stress on our hospitals and emergency rooms.”

The ICES investigative report, “The Impact of Not Having a Primary Care Physician Among People with Chronic Conditions,” has the following key findings:

  • 95% of patients with chronic disease have a family physician and at least 85% are getting appropriate amount of visits with primary care.
  • 15 percent of Ontarians with at least one chronic condition receive less care than they need or have poor continuity of care, most likely reflecting problems accessing care and resulting in higher rates of emergency attendance and hospital admission.
  • More than 118,000 excess emergency room visits (annually) due to patients without regular, continuous care by a family doctor.
  • More than 17,000 excess hospital admissions (annually) due to patients without regular, continuous care by a family doctor.
  • People in the youngest age group (20-44) males, those with the highest educational attainment, and rural residents were least likely to have a regular medical doctor.
  • People with depression were less likely to have a regular medical doctor.

“We have identified groups of people without family doctors and those who are having problems accessing the healthcare system. This is leading to serious consequences in the form of additional emergency visits and hospital admissions that could have been avoided. As the population continues to age this problem may become substantially worse at the same time as Ontario doctors are retiring,” says Dr. Rick Glazier principal investigator, senior ICES scientist and family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital. “The good news is this report finds that a higher proportion of people with chronic disease have family doctors than does the general population, which is appropriate, and the majority are getting sufficient visits with good continuity of care.”

“Our hospitals and emergency rooms offer high quality care for patients, but this is an extremely expensive and inappropriate way to care for patients who have chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma,” said Dr. Tom Weinberger, chair of the OMA’s Section of General and Family Practice. “These patients will likely experience complications from their illness that could otherwise be prevented and in many cases their overall conditions will worsen without regular attention from a family doctor.”


  • OMA Media Relations at (416) 340-2862 or toll free at 1-800-268-7215 ext. 2862
  • ICES Media Relations at (416) 480-4780


Contributing ICES Scientists

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