Two decades later, Quebec effort to make family doctors available hasn't worked: study

Despite efforts to improve the situation -- including a project spearheaded by François Legault himself, 20 years ago -- a new study says Quebecers are having just as much trouble finding a family doctor as they were two decades ago.

The "family medicine groups" implemented in 2002 have failed to fix the problems they were designed to fix, says the study, by the think tank IRIS.

The groups were supposed to smooth the path to getting a family doctor while helping solve two other problems: they would ease pressure on emergency rooms and improve psychological services.

But the model failed at all three goals, say the researchers.

Legault created family medicine groups in the early 2000s when he was health minister for the Parti Quebecois government.

The idea was to have a group of family doctors work together, and with other health professionals, in order to provide mutlidiscplinary health care.

According to the model, their offices need to be open 68 hours per week and at least four hours on the weekends.

But the study found that problems started cropping up when groups starting teaming up, meaning, for instance, that two clinics would share a weekend, with one opening Saturday and the other Sunday.

The groups could also partner with hospitals, but in those cases, it often just meant patients would be redirected to the emergency room.

One of the main problems is front-line care, the researchers found. If the government had decided to put family doctors in CLSC clinics, for example, where there are already a lot of other health professionals, the idea might have worked better.

But not everyone agrees the idea has been a failure.

Longtime patient rights advocate Paul Brunet says the idea is a solid one. The problem was the quantity, he said -- there needed to be more family medicine groups to make it truly work the way it was intended.

“Maybe the groups did not help primary care as it should have,” he said.

“But in my mind,” he continued, “I am sure that they have diminished the crisis that we are experiencing today because they admit and are able to treat a lot of walk-in patients.” 

Since 2002, many doctors have come to embrace the multidisciplinary system, he added, and don't focus only on having the doctor at the centre of a person's health care.

As premier, Legault's CAQ government has now presented its own overhaul of the health-care system, meant to be carried out by current minister Christian Dubé. The plan keeps family medicine groups intact.  

Newsletters

Breaking News alerts, info on contests, and special offers from partners