TORONTO -- Despite the fast-growing number of doctors in Canada, there appears to be a mismatch between family physicians and patients desperate for one.

A Canadian Institute of Health Information report on Thursday found the number of doctors is growing at double the rate of the Canadian population. Between 2014 and 2018, Canada's population grew by 4.6 per cent, while the number of physicians grew by 12.5 per cent.

But millions of patients, particularly in rural areas, aren’t reaping the benefits and getting access to the care they need.

Nearly 4.8 million Canadians said they didn’t have a regular doctor -- with the highest rates reported in Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, according to figures from Statistics Canada.

When looking at Canadians aged 12 or older, 25.6 per cent of people in Quebec, 18.7 per cent of those in Saskatchewan and 18 per cent Alberta didn’t have a regular physician.

Geoff Ballinger, the institute's physician information manager, told CTV News that “we are seeing a disconnect between … two things: the number of physicians and patients looking for a physician.”

He also told The Canadian Press despite the growth of doctors, “the same proportion of Canadians are still having a challenge accessing physicians.”

The vast majority of physicians -- 92 per cent-- work in urban centres, meaning that only eight per cent work in rural areas. Therefore, the report highlights the need for greater incentives to be given for doctors to move to where they’re needed.

Patients without doctors could lead to other issues. Some studies have shown those without a regular doctor are less likely to get a flu shot or follow cancer screening guidelines.


One of those people who had been desperate to find a doctor was communications writer Alka Merlin who spent four years finding a family doctor after she first moved to Calgary.

“It was extremely hard,” she told CTV News, recalling how she asked all of her friends for referrals. “They all said ‘I don’t know.’ They’d check (and) the doctors said, ‘No, I'm sorry we're full.’”

The Canadian Institute of Health Information works with governments and stakeholders to provide information on policy and research. And their report also found some positive trends.

The non-profit group found that in 2018, there were almost 90,000 physicians in Canada -- or equivalent to 241 physicians per 100,000 population -- which is the highest number per capita ever.

And Ballinger said that since 2014, the number of female doctors has jumped by 21 per cent, while male doctors rose by seven per cent. And nearly half of the specialists were women.

The report also found that younger physicians of both genders are not working the same hours as their counterparts in the past.

Ballinger said “they are demanding a greater work-life balance and a course with women physicians they are sometimes leaving the profession at periods throughout their career to raise families.”

With files from The Canadian Press