15 November 2022
Finding a family doctor in Canada is often a daunting task. Long waiting lists, physician shortages and language barriers are among the many obstacles patients face in getting a doctor. In response, Dr. Lise Bjerre’s team, Chair of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa and the Montfort Knowledge Institute, have developed an online tool to make it easier for patients to find a family doctor near them.
Like a gangrene that has grown steadily over the past few years, the family doctor crisis has continued to worsen during the COVID-19 pandemic and does not appear to be ending anytime soon. According to an Angus Reid Institute survey, it is estimated that more than 17% of Canadians do not have a family doctor and 33% of Canadians who have one, have difficulty getting an appointment. “The situation has reached an unprecedented level, making it increasingly difficult to access quality primary care,” says Dr. Lise Bjerre. “Given the alarming picture that the current state of affairs paints, it became imperative for us to contribute to creating solutions, even if only partial ones.”
Docmapper.ca, trouvezunmedecin.ca in french, is a free and secure online interactive bilingual map that lists the names, practice locations, phone numbers and language skills of physicians in the Ottawa and Renfrew County area. This provides an integrated geographic and linguistic directory of family doctors in the region, a resource that did not exist until now. “ For the time being, this project funded by an unrestricted grant by the Ontario SPOR Support Unit Francophone Initiative (IF-COFFRE), has allowed for the creation of these two maps” says Dr. Bjerre. Nevertheless She and her team are still looking for additional funding to expand the scope of the interactive map.
This tool stands out at first glance because of the large geographic and linguistic directory it makes available to its users. In addition to the representation of the two official languages, there is a list of more than 50 other languages and dialects spoken by some of the region’s physicians. “The data we have at our disposal has shown us the need to offer a service that allows people to find a doctor who speaks the language of their choice,” says Dr. Lise Bjerre. Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, is linguistically diverse. A recent study by Dr. Peter Tanuseputro and his team, using ICES data, found that 33% of the province’s residents speak a primary language other than English. “This language barrier is not inconsequential when patients are looking for a family doctor,” says Dr. Lise Bjerre. This is especially true when the same study shows that patients who receive health care in the language of their choice have better health outcomes.
The tool also aims to reduce travel time for its users through its interactive map, which is one of its main components. ”Many Canadians travel long distances to access primary care,” says Dr. Lise Bjerre. Beyond the language factor, and the shortage of physicians particularly in rural areas, this travel is also caused by the lack of information regarding physicians close to where patients live.
With its interactive map, docmapper.ca addresses this problem directly, making it as easy as possible for patients to find a doctor who best meets their language needs.
With these features, docmapper.ca is already positioning itself as an innovative solution to help overcome these barriers faced by Canadians looking for a primary care physician. The tool could also be useful to physicians and health planners. However, it should be noted that this tool is still in the developmental stage. “At the moment, we don’t have the data to know if the physicians on the map are accepting new patients,” says Dr. Bjerre.
Moreover, let’s not forget that a major cause of difficulties in accessing primary care is simply the insufficient number of physicians in Canada. Indeed, Canada fares poorly compared to most other OECD countries. In 2020, Canada had an average of 2.73 physicians per thousand (1000) population. Only the United States, Mexico and Japan had fewer, while France, Great Britain, the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Portugal and many others had significantly more. Leading the way are Austria and Norway, with more than 5 physicians per thousand (1000) population, almost double.
Finally, encouraged by the strong response to the map from both patients and physicians, Dr. Bjerre and her team are actively seeking additional funding to expand the geographic reach of docmapper.ca, first to the entire province, and then to the entire country.