Leading Canadian physicians say that increasing access to interprofessional team-based care -- such as the services and programs offered by this team at Rexdale CHC -- is one of the keys to ensuring no one is being left behind by the health system. A new initiative called TeamCare is doing just that by connecting independent physicians and their patients to their local CHC.

If we want to improve access to primary care in Canada, we have to get away from thinking that it’s a problem of not having enough doctors, leading family physicians told CBC Radio’s The Current on Wednesday.

“The number of family doctors per capita in Canada has gone up very substantially in the last few years,” Dr. Michael Rachlis, an author and family physician who has consulted on health care policy for the federal government and all 10 provinces, told host Anna Maria Tremonti. “But we’re continuing to hear these stories [of people being unable to find a family doctor].”

Dr. Rachlis went on to reiterate what he says dozens of government reports have said for years about the problem: “It’s not the number of doctors, it’s how we’re using them.”

The program then delved deeper into the issue – one which is sure to be part of upcoming election debates in Ontario as voters are scheduled to go to the polls on June 7, 2018.

Dr. Danielle Martin, family doctor and author of Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All Canadians, agreed with Dr. Rachlis, noting that encouraging doctors to work differently isn’t enough, and that changes to the structure of how they work needs to be a big part of any solution.

“One of the ways that we can address this problem is by working more effectively in teams of health care providers,” she said.

This is especially true for people managing multiple chronic conditions, and those who face barriers to accessing health care services due to social determinants such as low income and education levels, racism, sexism and homophobia, and being socially isolated.

In Ontario, Community Health Centres, who have a mandate to serve those who face barriers to access, are working with family physicians who don’t currently work in teams to bridge the gaps that providers and the people they serve can face. But the work is just beginning.

To get a sense of the problem: Only 25 percent of people in Ontario have access to interprofessional primary care teams. Across the province, CHCs are leading a ground-breaking initiative called “TeamCare”. It connects 370 primary care physicians and more than 4,500 of the people they serve, with 17 CHCs who have decades’ worth of in-depth of experience serving people with complex needs. To take a line straight from Dr. Martin’s book, which advocates “scaling up successful health care ideas across the country,” TeamCare could be a game-changing move that begins to reimagine primary health care.

But for TeamCare to be scaled up, more resources are needed to facilitate the process. In its April 27 budget, the Ontario government committed $15 million to increase access to interprofessional teams – and this initiative seems like a golden opportunity to ensure providers and their patients can get connected to team-based care.

“TeamCare gives a provider who had been working on their own access to a virtual team – virtual for the provider, but very real for a client who hasn’t been able to access the full complement of comprehensive primary health care services,” said Adrianna Tetley, CEO of the Association of Ontario Health Centres. “This is about much more than enhancing the referrals process – this is a way of building a collaborative approach in primary health care, an approach that we know allows for deeper relationships between providers and their clients that can help close gaps and surmount entrenched barriers, especially for anyone who has difficulty accessing the health care system.”