In recent years, Canadians and their governments
have been paying a significant amount of attention to the supply
of physicians in Canada. For example, the Canadian Medical Forum
(an association of national medical organizations representing
physicians in Canada) have undertaken two national examinations
of physician supply, the second of which was undertaken in
partnership with governments and other medical professional
associations. Reports and comments on the issue of physician
supply also appear regularly in the nation's news media. The
Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada also discussed
the supply of physicians in Canada at length in its final report.
Most discussions and studies have come to the conclusion that
there are too few physicians practicing in Canada today. That
conclusion is supported by the available evidence on Canadians'
unmet health care needs and the relative supply of physicians in
this country. For example, in 2003 more than 1.2 million
Canadians were unable to find a regular physician. Statistics
also show that Canada had many fewer physicians per capita in
2002 than most other developed nations that have universal access
health care insurance programs.
This Fraser Alert looks at three dimensions of Canada's physician
shortage. It begins with a short review of the literature
examining whether or not a greater supply of physicians provides
benefits other than easier access to care. The next section
considers how Canada's physician supply has evolved over time and
what factors have helped determine that evolution. The final
section closes with a consideration of what is ultimately driving
the physician shortage in Canada and provides a sensible solution
to the problem.