September 22, 2022

Why you don't have a family doctor and what Integra Health is doing to help

Hi Friends,

I wanted to take a moment to check in with you and help provide you with some insight surrounding the misinformation, anxiety and confusion that so many of you have been experiencing without a family doctor.

Hopefully today, I can help answer both broadly and specifically why you don’t have a family doctor and what Integra is doing to help you get access to quality care in a timely and efficient manner. I will also share some tips and recommendations to help you and your family especially as we head into this fall. 

Before I get into this, I wanted to first take a moment to share with you why it has become increasingly challenging to find a good family doctor to care for you and your family.

As we continue to experience staffing shortages in hospitals with nursing and administration along with  massive wait times in Emergency Departments, these are just a few of several factors that play a big role in the influx of patients that end up at clinics like Integra Health in dire need of support and care. We also know the past few years have been extremely difficult, and although we may feel we’re on the other side of the pandemic now, we are still seeing the impacts of COVID. Deferred procedures, delays in getting access to timely care, and just increasing severity of illness are still burdening physician and specialist offices everywhere.

When did this all spiral out of control?

We always had a shortage of physicians, in fact even before COVID-19, 1.3 million Ontarians were already without a family physician; that number has now risen to 1.8 million in a recent Statistics Canada survey. During COVID, both at Integra and across the Nation, the pandemic prompted a rise in physicians leaving family medicine for private healthcare opportunities. This led to an unprecedented amount of patients requiring support as they were impacted by physicians no longer seeing their patients or even clinics being unable to accomodate necessary in-person visits. This, of course, impacted our schedules and put a big strain on our resources. To add pressure to an already burdened system, virtual medical practices also deflected all their in-person patient needs (there were A LOT OF THEM) to offices like Integra Health and already severely strained emergency rooms. As most of you know, virtual medicine has its own limitations and eventually patients NEED to be seen in the office. 

As a response, Integra Health (myself mainly) was recruiting endlessly from all over the country and in some cases internationally to bring in talented physicians and it was incredibly challenging as our healthcare system was also taking physicians out of clinics and into vaccination centres and testing facilities. Unfortunately, a system that has been underutilizing appropriate resources for programs like these (i.e nurses, lab technicians, veterinarians, optometrists and other qualified allied health professionals, etc.) has only led to increased frustrations and unnecessary use of overqualified candidates in such public health mandated rollouts. New graduates are also opting not to settle into practices and continue to avoid rostering for several years for their own work-life balance until they feel fully settled and ready to take on patients long-term. It was a very tough position to be in for a while. We were feeling the increased burden and heightened responsibility to provide care for our patients and others’ patients, but were constantly feeling like we could not simply keep up with limited physician administrative staffing shortages.

Does Integra Health still have a shortage of physicians?

The short answer is yes, and no. 

We have fortunately brought our physician volume back up to pre-covid levels and all of our new physicians who have joined our team are responding by seeing previous Integra patients who don’t have a family doctor and also accommodating walk-in patients. 

The Good News…

We are on track to recovering from the severe shortages we faced and have so many new bright and friendly doctors that can accommodate your more urgent needs with same day and same week availability. Although we are not actively accepting patients, just yet…Integra’s Practice is Different. 

Walk-in Care at Integra Health vs. Traditional Offices

Integra has always believed in accessible, efficient, inclusive and respectful care. Well before COVID, we revolutionized the walk-in clinic model by offering an advanced scheduling system for both family and walk-ins by offering appointments to ensure you are not stuck wasting hours at the doctor’s office. Although most walk-in clinics generally have “temporary” doctors, Integra hires physicians for longer contracts who typically work 3+ days a week to ensure better availability and consistency in care and follow ups. We also provide on-site lab services which most clinics outsource leaving you to waste more hours to get what simply should only take several minutes.

In addition to convenient hours, because so many of you have a file at Integra, all of our physicians are able to access your medical history and are able to see you as a walk-in for a lot of reasons that most walk-ins won’t; including:

  • Mental health consultations
  • Specialist referrals 
  • Health care consultations for both recent and chronic conditions
  • Pap and prostate exams
  • Preventative care checks including blood work
  • Routine blood work with on-site labs
  • Prescription refills
  • Wellbaby, childhood examinations and routine immunizations

While traditionally we feel like we need a family doctor, Integra Health is structured such that it can be your family physician clinic. Most studies actually showcase that more people prefer to be seen by a good doctor quickly, and that is something that Integra is working actively on to help you get the care you need. The issue with seeing different walk-in clinics is discontinuity of care, but having your records in one centralized place helps mitigate this issue to avoid over-testing and over-treating or missing conditions and ultimately reducing anxiety. Integra Health is designed such that we can still treat you as a whole person as opposed to just solving short-term issues.

There’s actually limited evidence that a yearly physical is beneficial and/or required and hence why most family doctors are no longer offering this to their patients. In fact, the Canadian Task Force on the Periodic Health Examination has been recommending phasing out the annual exam since the 1970s! Studies have shown that yearly physicals in healthy individuals don’t indicate longer or healthier lifespans, and can lead to unnecessary tests or stress, not to mention the financial burden on the healthcare system. The thinking now is that having a go-to family health clinic who has access to your health history means you can determine your ideal personal schedule to access your healthcare needs, together.

What else is Integra doing to get me more access to timely and efficient care?

In addition to the increased volume of physicians working at Integra Health, we continue to provide a collaborative model of health with an amazing team of diverse allied health and specialty care providers including sports medicine, allergy and immunology, physiotherapy, chiropractic, mental health services and so much more.

As we do intend to open up more rostered positions over the coming months we do expect to be having our waitlist fulfilled hopefully within the next 12-18 months but in the interim we do not feel that anyone will go without the care they need by continuing to book visits with us for their health needs as a walk-in Integra patient.

We are also looking to open up more efficient services including a national prescription delivery service and will be launching our latest digitally-enabled medical and wellness concierge service called CIRCLE health to our patients later in the fall which will open up access to even more care for you and your loved ones including nurse concierge, express care, comprehensive year-round care etc.

The silver lining…you can continue to get all your healthcare needs under one roof 

If you are still looking to be added to our waitlist please update your information here. If you have multiple people in your household looking please do separate entries.

Things are getting better, and we are working from all fronts to help you get access, timely. 

Have a wonderful Fall season ahead.

Yours in Good Health,

Dr. Sapna

CEO & Co-Founder of Integra Health

Committed to Changing the way healthcare is delivered…