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For almost two years now, the Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens du Québec (FMOQ) has been trying to sensitize the government and public opinion about the extremely difficult situation the practice of family medicine in Québec is in. It seems that, although Québecers, who are the first victims of the present crisis, adhere to our point of view and want concrete action to be taken to remedy the situation, the government has been content with empty words for over eighteen months now. And yet, it really is urgent that something be done. Here are a few eloquent examples:
- Over 25 % of Québecers (about two million people) have no family doctor, while in Ontario, for example, the proportion is closer to 10%.
- The shortage of family doctors in Québec has worsened by 45% over the last two years, with demand rising from 759 in 2008-2009 to 1102 today. It’s not complicated – there’s a lack of general practitioners everywhere in Québec.
- Medical students stay away from family medicine as a career choice.
- Over the last 4 years, close to 250 positions for family doctors remained vacant in the four Québec medical faculties. If these positions had been filled, 250,000 more Québecers would have had access to a family doctor.
- Future doctors prefer becoming specialists. Over the last 4 years, 18% of resident family doctor positions in our universities remained vacant, while the proportion is only 4% for medical specialists.
- Young general practitioners are less and less attracted to practicing in medical clinics and taking charge of patient follow-ups. They often simply prefer working in a hospital milieu.
- General practitioners who do monitor and follow-up patients from a doctor’s office are sorely lacking professional support (nurses, for example) and technical support (computerized files, for example), and are often overloaded by the weight of their task.
- General practitioners who monitor and follow up patients from their office have a lot of difficulty recruiting new doctors to help them. They therefore have a legitimate right to worry about not being able to find anyone to take care of their patients when they retire. The situation could get a lot worse in a very short time.
Despite this rather sombre picture, we still believe it’s possible to reverse the situation and make the practice of family medicine more attractive, so that each Québecer who wants one can have access to a family doctor. For that to happen, however, the government has to take some concrete steps and act on three fronts: more training in family medicine, better organization of care, and remuneration for family doctors that is more competitive with that of their specialist colleagues. The future of our health system is at stake. It’s clear: the time to act is now.