Wait times at Ontario walk-in clinics increase in 2022 as more residents go without a family physician

Canada is critically low on family physicians, and millions are turning to walk-in clinics. But as Tina Yazdani reports, newly-released data shows wait times are skyrocketing across the country, and doctors say relying on walk-ins isn’t sustainable.

By Tina Yazdani and Meredith Bond

With Canada critically low on family physicians, new data shows that wait times at walk-in clinics are becoming worse across the country.

“Every Ontarian having their own family doctor that would make a world of difference,” said Dr. Jobin Varughese, Ontario College of Family Physicians’ President-Elect.

But finding a family doctor is about to become even more difficult. In Toronto alone, it is estimated one in five Ontario residents won’t have one by 2025.

“A lot of doctors on the supply side are basically saying I’m burnt out, I’m not compensated well enough, the work-life balance isn’t there, so I’m leaving,” said Teddy Wickland from Medimap, the Canadian tech company which collected the data on wait times.

London, Ont. had the highest wait time

The report on wait times said Ontario has the shortest wait at 25 minutes, up 10 minutes in 2021, representing a 66 per cent increase from the year before and a 108 per cent increase from 2019, when the average wait was just 12 minutes.

Nova Scotia and B.C.’s clinic wait times increased to 83 and 79 minutes, putting the national average at 37 minutes.

Wickland explains that while 10 minutes may sound insignificant, these averages are taking over an entire year in cities across the province.

“There might be days, months, or these weekends are much higher than they look on paper. You might have one clinic in a province that always has a two-hour wait and then another clinic that never has any wait and some in the middle. So that’s how I would think about it,” said Wickland.

In Ontario, the city of London had the highest wait times at 80 minutes, while Toronto registered at 15. Brampton has the shortest, with 10 minutes.

“We’re in a bad situation, and I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Wickland.

He said he was hopeful there would be a shift this year in shorter wait times coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, but “that has clearly not happened.”

“Things are bad, and they just have been for quite a while. I wouldn’t say I found that surprising. I think it just shines a light that there’s clearly more work that needs to be done.”

Increased demand a troubling sign, experts say

The federal government just added $17 billion over 10 years to the Canada Health Transfer, which funds health care in the country.

Another $25 billion would be given for targeted funding for family doctors, mental health, surgical backlogs and health data systems.

Public health experts say even if wait times were to improve, increased demand for walk-ins is a troubling sign.

“While it’s convenient and might be useful for getting a prescription for an infection or something… walk-in clinics are not the perfect place to receive ongoing care for chronic conditions and complex conditions that increasingly we see in the population,” said Sara Allin.

The Ontario government has also committed to opening more family medicine residency training spots and streamlining licensing for internationally trained physicians.

However, the Ontario College of Family Physicians tells CityNews that it will take time, and they say there are solutions that can be implemented immediately, and they include improving working conditions to retain current family physicians.

“There should be an improved pay scale for people who work within the office,” added Dr. Varughese.

Another solution is to back family doctors up with a team to assist with things like time-consuming administrative tasks.

“Colleagues of mine have said they’ve spent up to 19 hours a week doing administrative tasks; that’s almost half of most people’s workweek.”

Currently, 75 per cent of family doctors in Ontario do not work in team-based practices. “And that means they have to run a lot of their practice, and that means less time with patients,” explained Dr. Varughese.

If solutions are implemented today, the college said Ontarians could see results within the next two years.

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