Doctors' payments growing at slowest recorded pace: study

Canada has a record number of doctors but payments to them grew at the slowest pace in 15 years, according to a new report.

Medicine 'becoming dominated by women physicians'

Women represented a larger proportion of family medicine physicians than of specialists. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

Canada has a record number of doctors but payments to them grew at the slowest pace in 15 years, according to a new report.

Tuesday’s annual report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information showed there were more than 77,000 physicians in the country last year, which it called an all-time high and a 3.4 per cent increase over 2012.

The number of physicians per population, 220 per 100,000, was also the highest ever recorded. In comparison, in 2012, there were 214 doctors per 100,000.

The institute used two main sources, one on supply of physicians and another on payments to them, to compile the report.

Government payments to physicians for their care reached $22.8 billion in 2012-13, up 3.5 per cent over the previous year and the lowest growth rate in more than a decade.

The growth in average payment per doctor also appeared to level off.

"It currently stands at around $328,000 per physician in gross clinical payments to physicians," said Geoff Ballinger, CIHI’s manager of physician information.

"The 'gross' is an operative word in that description because out of that money physicians have to pay for their staff, overhead, insurance, taxes and those kinds of things to run their practice."

There are two contributors to the doctor supply — the number of domestic graduates and the continued influx of internationally educated medical graduates.

Based on how many MD degrees are being awarded by Canadian medical schools, the physician workforce is expected to grow.

The data also showed that more than quarter of physicians who started working last year received their medical training outside of Canada. These graduates make a significant contribution to the growth of the physician supply, Ballinger said. The main source countries are South Africa, the United Kingdom, India and Ireland.

Another trend was in the number of women in the country’s physician workforce.

"What we're starting to see is that medicine in general is becoming dominated by women physicians. Over the last few years, over half of the graduates from medical schools have been women," Ballinger said. 

Between 2009 and 2013, the number of female physicians increased by 22.5 per cent, while the number of male physicians increased by 9.2 per cent.

About 43 per cent of family medicine physicians and 33 per cent of specialists were women in 2013.

With files from CBC's Amina Zafar