Online tool helps patients find doctors
November 16, 2022
OTTAWA – The Chair in Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa and the Institut du Savoir Montfort is launching an online tool to identify family doctors who provide care in a variety of languages in the Ottawa and Renfrew County area. Finding a family doctor in Canada is often a daunting task. Long waiting lists, physician shortages and language barriers are often among the many obstacles patients face in getting a doctor.
In response, Dr. Lise Bjerre (pictured), chair in Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa and her team, and the Institut du Savoir Montfort, have developed an online tool to make it easier for patients to find a family doctor in their own language, near their home.
Docmapper.ca, trouvezunmedecin.ca in French, is a free and secure online tool consisting of an interactive map that lists the names, contact information and language skills of physicians in the Ottawa and Renfrew County area. The platform is available in English and French and lists physicians who speak over 50 languages. This provides an integrated geographic and language directory of family physicians in the region.
“The data we have has shown us the need to provide a service that allows people to find a doctor who speaks their language of choice,” says Dr. Bjerre, who is also researcher at the Institut du Savoir Montfort and associate professor in the department of Family Medicine at uOttawa.
Ontario, which is Canada’s most populous province, is linguistically diverse and a recent study by Dr. Peter Tanuseputro and his team, using ICES data, found that 33% of Ontario residents speak a primary language other than English.
“This language barrier is not inconsequential when patients are looking for a family doctor,” says Dr. Bjerre. This is especially true when the same study shows that patients who receive healthcare in the language of their choice have better health outcomes.
Additionally, “many Canadians travel long distances to access primary care,” says Dr. Bjerre. Beyond the language factor and the shortage of doctors, particularly in rural areas, this travel is also caused by a lack of information about the availability of doctors near patients’ homes. With its interactive map, docmapper.ca addresses this problem directly, making it as easy as possible for patients to find a doctor who best meets their language needs.
With these features, docmapper.ca is already positioning itself as an innovative solution to help overcome these barriers faced by Canadians looking for a primary care physician. The tool could also be useful to physicians and health planners. However, it should be noted that this tool is still in development. “At the moment, we don’t have the data to know if the physicians on the maps are accepting new patients,” says Dr. Bjerre.
In addition, let’s not forget that one of the main causes of poor access to primary care is simply the lack of doctors in Canada. In fact, Canada fares poorly compared to most other OECD countries. In 2020, Canada had an average of 2.73 physicians per thousand (1,000) residents. Only the United States, Mexico, and Japan had fewer, while France, Great Britain, the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Portugal, and several others had significantly more. Leading the way were Austria and Norway, with more than 5 physicians per thousand (1,000) residents, nearly double the ratio in Canada.
Nevertheless, Dr. Bjerre and her team are optimistic and intend to do their utmost to contribute to improving access to primary care through this tool. As a first step, an online survey is now available on docmapper.ca to get feedback and suggestions from map users. The survey is anonymous and takes only one to two minutes to complete. The data collected will help inspire the addition of new features and the expansion of the docmapper.ca service offering.
Finally, encouraged by the strong interest in the maps from both patients and physicians, Dr. Bjerre let us know that “for the time being, this project funded by an unrestricted grant by the Ontario SPOR Support Unit Francophone Initiative (IF-COFFRE), has allowed for the creation of these two maps. However, we are still looking for additional funding to expand the interactive map, first to the entire province, and then to the entire country.”