The Shifting Landscape of Primary Care in Canada: A Patient-Centric Perspective

The Shifting Landscape of Primary Care in Canada: A Patient-Centric Perspective


This is the first of a four part series about current trends in primary care, with a view to where we are headed in the future.  The goal here is to spur thinking, encourage conversation and to help understand what is required to truly transform our healthcare system, if real change is to stick.  I am looking forward to your comments!

In recent years, primary care in Canada has undergone significant transformations, largely driven by public policy, changing patient expectations and the evolving healthcare landscape. Covid-19 certainly shifted our focus, both looking very sharply at needs at sub-local levels, but also at broader system change that is required to keep our population healthy.

From the patient’s perspective, several trends have emerged, shaping their interactions with the healthcare system. Let’s explore these trends and understand how they are impacting primary care in this vast country.

  1. The Need for Consistency:

Canadian patients generally prefer having a consistent healthcare provider. However, in the absence of one, they are increasingly turning to alternative options such as emergency rooms, virtual doctors, or unregulated providers. This highlights the importance of building trustful, long-term patient-provider relationships.

  1. On-Demand Expectations:

Patients today are well-acquainted with efficient, on-demand services in other aspects of their lives, and they expect the same level of accessibility from healthcare. This has led to a growing demand for healthcare services that are easily accessible and responsive to their needs.

  1. Information Overload and the Need for Curation:

The internet has empowered patients with access to a wealth of health information. While this has made patients more informed about their symptoms and illnesses, it has also created a need for healthcare professionals to curate and interpret this vast amount of information.

  1. Trust in Relationships:

Even in an age of information, patients still prioritize relationships and trust, especially during medical crises. Building trust and rapport with patients remains a cornerstone of effective primary care.

  1. Desire for a Familiar Healthcare Team:

Patients desire a familiar and trustworthy healthcare team. They want to be known, not just as medical cases but as individuals with unique needs and preferences.

  1. The Balance Between Local and Distant, In-Person and Virtual Care:

While patients increasingly expect care to be localized, they are also open to virtual consultations. Virtual healthcare can bridge geographical gaps and make care feel proximate, even when providers are physically distant.  Patients with guidance can often pick the type of visit that works best for the problem they have at that moment.

  1. Willingness to Pay for Accessible Care:

In areas with limited accessibility, patients are more willing to pay for services. This willingness reflects the importance they place on timely and convenient healthcare access.

  1. Positive Response to System Alterations:

Patients are receptive to changes in the healthcare system, especially when well-informed. The broad adoption of new care delivery options during the COVID-19 pandemic is a testament to patients’ adaptability and openness to new ways of receiving care.

  1. Navigational Assistance Amidst Complexity:

The healthcare system can be complex and overwhelming. Patients frequently require assistance in navigating the system, whether it’s finding the right specialist or understanding insurance coverage.

  1. Demographic Influences:

It’s worth noting that Canada’s aging demographic is dominant, and immigration/emigration patterns influence system priorities. The changing cultural landscape at both the provincial and national levels affects demands on the healthcare system, such as the need for culturally sensitive care and services like improved cancer screening.

So what does this all mean? Primary care in Canada is evolving to meet the changing needs and expectations of patients. Patients are seeking accessible, trustworthy, and personalized care experiences, whether through traditional in-person visits or virtual consultations. Healthcare providers and policymakers must continue to adapt to these trends to ensure that primary care remains patient-centric and responsive to the diverse healthcare needs of Canadians across the country.  This is done though effective listening to patients themselves, putting this insight beside that offered by health care providers in the system, and creating the transformation that lets it all happen.

Part two of my four-part series focuses on physicians and clinicians in Primary Care.  Coming later this week!

6 Replies to “The Shifting Landscape of Primary Care in Canada: A Patient-Centric Perspective”

  1. Thanks Darren, for your clear and concise account of the trends related to patients’ interactions with our healthcare system. I agree with these trends wholeheartedly, both as a Registered Nurse and as a patient that has needed to navigate this system, in order to get the care and services needed.

    Integrating these ten trends into strategic and operational plans, focusing on quality improvement in primary care, has the potential to bring about significant positive change.

    The delivery of primary care has typically been driven from the perspectives of physicians and clinicians. A culture shift is definitely needed. Listening to patients is one important approach to making a shift to a more personalized, patient-centric approach to care.

    Ongoing primary care provider education is of great important to achieving provider buy-in for a culture shift and to sustain that shift. A good starting point is to help providers identify what existing practices fit with these ten trends and what practice changes need to be made, based on the trends.

    Providers need to develop skills in patient engagement and empowerment, and become more open to, and allow time for, participatory decision making and discussion of patient identified healthcare priorities and goals. Over time, and with a shift in current practices, to one that is more patient-centric, there is hope that patients and their families will be called upon more often to help co-design health programs and services to meet their changing primary care needs.

    1. These are awesome thoughts, Lee, and dead on. Coming up next are some trends in provider perspectives, and then the health system overall. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment here!!

  2. Love this! I think much of what you’re saying here resonates as a patient. The increased demand for accessibility in healthcare has skyrocketed. You’ve hit the majority of points that healthcare systems need to consider if they want to adapt and remain patient-focused.

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