Critical Needs, Part 2: Addressing Kingston’s shortage of family doctors
There are thousands of orphaned patients in Kingston right now, unable to find a family doctor.
One reason is that the province has designated the city as a “non-high needs” area, because of Kingston’s hospitals and medical school.
Colleen Jackson has been a patient at the Kingston Community Health Centres for 28 years, requiring regular monitoring for her kidney function and diabetes.
“This model brings it all together”, Jackson said. “So I have foot care with one nurse, I’m in every three months for blood work, so that doesn’t have to be done with the doctor.”
The Kingston Community Health Centres, where Ms. Jackson is a patient, is based in the city’s north end. The organization employs five family doctors, with the support of upwards of 30 other medical professionals.
“You have access to a family doctor, plus a team,” says Mike Bell, CEO of Kingston Community Health Centres.
And it’s that team-based healthcare model that also allows patients to see nurses, dietitians and therapists, Bell said — all under one roof.
“Patients are complex individuals. Health needs are multi-faceted. So if we think about relying on one single person to try do all of that, it’s a little unrealistic,” Bell said.
Today’s medical students are trained in this team-based care model.
But because of Kingston’s designation as a “non-high needs” community, the number of family doctors that can be recruited into this team model has been capped by the provincial government. And that has contributed to the city’s doctor shortage.
“So we need to have enough of those positions available to attract the new doctors to our communities,” said Dr. Joy Hataley, chair of District 7 of the Ontario Medical Association.
Kingston city councillor Rob Hutchison, meanwhile, added another dimension to the issue. “It is not just a family physician problem,” Hutchison said. “It’s also an economic development problem.”
Hutchison worries the current lack of family doctors could hurt the city’s ability to attract new jobs and investment.
“Who would come some place that you can’t get a doctor for yourself and your family?” Hutchison asked.
It’s a problem likely to get worse, as the province thinks Kingston, with its hospitals and medical school, has too many doctors.
Many of those doctors are only involved in research and education, though — not one-on-one patient care.
What Kingston did a decade ago to address the doctor shortage was offer things like cash incentives to lure physicians to the city. That recruitment program brought 23 family doctors to the city, who hung their own shingle or joined team-based healthcare organizations like the Kingston Community Health Centres.
“They are all part of a team. So from the physicians’ perspective, they feel supported and they know at the end of the day their patient is going to get better care,” Bell said.
Jackson, however, says she counts herself fortunate, considering Kingston has over 3,200 people currently on the waiting list, through Health Care Connect, for a family doctor and over 15,000 unregistered patients, according to Dr. Joy Hataley.
“I have people here who will and can take care of all of my different issues,” Jackson explained.
A medical coalition that includes Hataley, the City of Kingston, the Ontario Medical Association and the Chamber of Commerce say there are no quick fixes to address the critical needs of today, but they are currently gathering data and will lobby the Ontario government to charge Kingston’s “non-high needs” designation in the next six to 12 months.
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