Percentage of Population with Regular Physician

Sex and Gender-based Analysis of this topic

Definition
The percentage of the population with a regular physician refers to the proportion of household population aged 12 and over who report having a regular physician. Statistics Canada collects data on this indicator and uses a broad definition of regular physician (or medical doctor) which includes family doctors/general practitioners, who provide primary medical care and are seen for routine procedures, annual exams, blood tests, or flu shots, but also includes specialists [1]. The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) reports similar data, but refines the definition by only including those who have a family physcian [2]. According to Statistics Canada, in 2007, 85% of Canadians reported having a regular physician; 81% of males and 90% of females [3]. Similarly, the CFPC found that 86% of Canadians have a family doctor in 2007 [2], which suggests that similar statistics are obtained despite differences in the definition of regular physician.
 
 
Sex Issues
Canadians without a regular physician are more than twice as likely to report difficulties in accessing routine and preventative services. For example, women with little or no care were less likely to have had a mammogram within two years of participating in the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) or to have ever had a pap smear, placing them at greater risk for breast and cervical cancer [4,5]. In general, women have higher contact rates with a regular physician due to a greater prevalence of chronic conditions, female-specific diagnostic and preventative health care services, as well as reproductive events. Many women continue to see their regular physician during pregnancy instead of seeking a specialist [6].
 
 
Gender Issues

Women are more likely to have a regular physician and in general, access the health care system more frequently than men [7]. For example, many women are responsible for their own contraception and as a result, have increased contact with a regular physician. Many women also act as the primary care-seeker for dependent children and elderly family members, increasing their contact with a regular physician [8]. Of those not having a regular physician, more than twice as many men (13%) than women (6%) have not tried to find a regular physician [3]. This may reflect a difference in attitudes towards health and illness among men and women.

According to the 2007 National Physician survey, only 37% of family physicians are female, compared to 63% of which are male [9]. The same survey indicated that only 28% of female physicians’ practices are open to accepting all new patients compared to 39% for male physicians. The shortage of female physicians who are accepting new patients may be due to female physicians taking time off during their own child-bearing years and thus, limiting how often they accept new patients.

 
 
Diversity

The likelihood of having a regular physician increases with age. Only 4% of women aged 65 or older did not have a regular physician, compared to 16% of women aged 20-34. Among 20-34 year olds without regular physicians, 6% could not find a regular doctor and 10% have not looked for one [10].

According to the 2007 CCHS, the percentage of those having a regular physician among low-income households (82%), Aboriginal persons (81%), and new immigrants (65%) was lower than the national average (85%) [3]. In the 2003-2005 CCHS survey, 19% of lesbians and 24% of bisexuals did not have a regular physician, compared to only 12% of heterosexuals [11].

 
 
Critique
Women are the primary users of the health care system, which makes regular physician access an important issue for women’s health.  Data regarding the proportion of the population having a regular physician has been collected regularly every other year since 2000. However, prior to 2005, data are not available from the Yukon, Northwest Territories, or Nunavut [12]. This makes geographical comparisons difficult. There is also a lack of data regarding barriers among low income, lesbian, bisexual, and Aboriginal women. This data is necessary to understand and address low access to a regular physician in these subgroups.
 
 
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