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Nearly 20 per cent of Toronto family doctors are thinking about closing their practices in the next 5 years

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A new study found nearly 20 per cent of family doctors in Toronto are considering closing their practices in the next five years.

“I've looked, it's almost impossible to get one,” Storm Sorichetti said as she held her 5-year-old daughter Isaballa.

Sorichetti and her daughter are among the 1.8 million Ontarians without a doctor and using walk-in clinics instead.

"It's very frustrating," she says. Adding, "you can never get a full record of either my daughter or myself."

A recent study published in the journal 'Canadian Family Physician' based on a survey of family doctors from 2021 says, "17.5% (of the respondents) were planning to close their existing practices within the next 5 years."

“Policy makers need to prepare for a growing family physician shortage and better understand factors that support recruitment and retention,” Dr. Tara Kiran, a family doctor and the lead author of the study, said.

"I think we definitely are losing family doctors who are practicing in that traditional cradle to grave office based family practice," she said.

The most likely to leave were older male doctors, who run a family practice on their own. With many retiring early, and fewer new graduates choosing to take their place.

Kiran says, "If you choose to retire even two or five years earlier than you would, that can actually at a large scale have an impact on the healthcare workforce and as a result an impact on the population who really need family doctors."

This study did not look into why doctors may choose to close their practice, but another survey done by the Ontario Medical Association suggests that strain brought on by the pandemic may be a contributing factor.

OMA President Dr. Rose Zacharias says that in a 2021 survey, "upwards of 74 per cent of Ontario physicians said that they were operating at a level of burnout."

Zacharias says that an antiquated pay system and administrative work are big hurdles that may lead to fewer family medicine graduates opening their own practice.

“For every one hour of direct patient care that a family doctor provides on average they're doing two hours of work at their computer, at a medical chart, inputting data," she said.

Some family doctors, according to Zacharias, say administrative work takes up most of their day. She says, "I've spoken with some physicians who say they feel more like data analysts than doctors."

The pandemic has been especially hard on the family doctor who operates their own clinic.

Kiran says that as pandemic health restrictions came along, more than 97 per cent of family clinics stayed open, but "you had to yourself, figure out all of the infection and prevention and control changes. You had to, you were sourcing your personal protective equipment."

The OMA says that two ways the government can reverse the trend is to reduce barriers for international doctors to work here, and reform the current fee for service pay structure. 

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