Thousands search for a family doctor in Kitchener-Waterloo: LHIN
Kitchener and Waterloo on Ministry of Health list of “areas of high physician need”
More than 5,000 people in Kitchener-Waterloo are registered with the province's Health Care Connect program and are actively looking for a family doctor, according to the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network.
Health Care Connect is a voluntary program that refers people who don't have a family doctor to physicians who are accepting new patients.
There are also more than a dozen family doctor practices locally that need to be filled, and there have been no doctors in Waterloo accepting patients through the program in "quite some time," the LHIN said.
"It's concerning," said Dr. Joe Lee, who is lead physician with the Centre for Family Medicine in Kitchener and an associate clinical professor of family medicine at McMaster University.
He noted that people who don't have family doctors are more likely to go to the emergency room for lack of a better option.
"It's overall not good for the people, for the community [or] for the whole system," he said.
Population growth, smaller practices
Lee said doctor shortages are cyclical. Around 13-15 years ago, he said Kitchener-Waterloo had another family doctor shortage but since then has managed to recruit more doctors.
But while the number of local doctors in Kitchener-Waterloo has grown in the last 15 years, so too has the overall population and the number of patients with complex needs, Lee said. He said new doctors also tend to work fewer hours and maintain smaller practices than older physicians.
"A lot of things like that have really contributed to why we seem to have this this gap again," he said.
CBC News requested an interview with the Ontario Ministry of Health on this topic and was told no one was available.
In an email statement, a spokesperson for the ministry said the communities of Kitchener and Waterloo are considered "areas of high physician need."
According to data provided by the Ministry of Health, in 2018:
- Kitchener had 268 family physicians. The ratio of family physicians per 10,000 people was 10.5.
- Waterloo had 102 family physicians. The ratio of family physicians per 10,000 people was 8.8.
In response to questions about how the province plans to ensure that people in Kitchener-Waterloo have access to a family doctor, the spokesperson said Ontario is producing and attracting more physicians "than ever before."
"Growth in physician supply is projected to consistently exceed population growth, leading to an average annual net increase of approximately 616 physicians each year until 2027," the statement said.
The statement said the province also offers learning opportunities and incentives to encourage physicians to enter family practices in communities outside of Toronto and Ottawa and areas of high physician need.
Lee chairs the Kitchener-Waterloo-Wellesley-Wilmot-Woolwich (KW4) Ontario Health Team that is in development with the Ministry of Health, and said long-term physician recruitment is a priority for the team.
Still, Lee said it will take time to attract enough family physicians to the area.
"I think there's gonna be a gap for a while," he said.