A recent survey found that half of Canadians are without a primary care physician and of those who have one, most say it’s a struggle to acquire timely appointments with them.

One in five respondents also said that they do not have a family doctor in a survey conducted by Angus Reid Institute and the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).

The difference between a family doctor and a primary care physician is that a family doctor treats both children and adults, whereas a primary care physician mostly treats adults with internal medicine.

Of the Canadians who do have a family doctor, 29% said it was difficult for them to get an appointment and 37% said that it will often take days to retain an appointment. A minority of respondents, about 15%, said that getting an appointment with their family doctor was easy.

For those without a family doctor, 26% said they have quit looking altogether, while another 38% responded to having been searching for one for over a year. 

“As a family physician working in Canada, I understand and I know the value of primary care,” said Dr. Kathleen Ross, president of the CMA, “And when you don’t have access to that, there’s delayed diagnosis, difficulty navigating a complex system, patients are left to their own devices to try and sort out their medical concerns. We need to address this urgently.”

In 2022, the CMA released a report that found family doctors have a higher rate of burnout compared to other medical and surgical specialists based on their own responses. A majority of family doctors, 69%, also responded to having a poor work-life balance which affected their mental health due to an increased workload.

It’s estimated that over 6.5 million Canadians do not have a family physician or nurse practitioner that they are able to see when needed, according to a survey conducted by the CMA in April of this year. 

Atlantic Canada appears to suffer the most from a shortage in medical physicians with Nova Scotians reporting the highest number of residents without a family doctor at 67%. New Brunswick fell close behind with 61% of respondents lacking a family doctor or citing difficulty getting an appointment if they do have one. Newfoundland and Labrador responded similarly with 58%.

Quebec had less of a problem with access to family doctors with 26% of respondents without one and Ontario hurt the least by the shortage with only 13% saying they didn’t have one. 

Of those who have immigrated to Canada in the last five years, 44% say they have yet to acquire a family doctor, that number dropped down to 14% for those who have lived in Canada for over twenty years.

This comes at a time when patients who have died while on a waiting list for surgery are up by 49%, according to data analysis from SecondStreet.org. 

SecondStreet also conducted a poll last fall that found 72% of Canadians were open to the idea of private healthcare alternatives. 

I think the average Canadian recognizes now that the health-care system is on its knees,” said Ross, “The cracks in our system are not new and they do run far too deeply for any one solution or any one entity or any one jurisdiction to solve on their own.”

While some respondents believed more funding to the healthcare system would help, it’s, “definitely not the whole solution,” said Ross. 

“Streamlining applications for physicians who want to work in Canada from other jurisdictions could be part of our manpower solution,” said Ross. “But we recognize that when we do that, we’re actually taking manpower from other countries and jurisdictions as well.”

Ross said that the CMA is working on helping physicians gain mobility throughout Canada. 

“Having the ability to get a licence in one province and have that licence portable to other areas across Canada would go a long way to helping us address some of our challenges with staffing in rural and remote areas in particular,” she said.