April 1, 2024

Weekly EconMinute—Physicians Per Capita in Alberta

In this week’s EconMinute, we’re talking about the number of physicians per capita in Alberta.

The Canadian Institute for Health information recently published data on the number of physicians working across the country.

Access to health care is perennially at the top of the list of household concerns in Alberta and across Canada. With high population growth in Alberta and worries about finding a family physician, we were interested to see whether the number of doctors in the province has kept pace with this population increase.

Here’s what we found:

  • Based on the most recent data available (2022), Alberta has a total of 244 physicians per 100,000 people, with just under half being family physicians and the rest in specialized fields like dermatology or cardiology.
  • Over the past two decades the number of doctors per 100,000 has grown by almost 50%—a significant increase.
  • However, there has been a recent shift in the balance between family doctors and specialists. Up until 2019, there were always more family doctors than specialists per capita (an average of 92 versus 81).
  • Since then, the number of physicians per 100,000 has begun to decline. However, the drop was much more pronounced for family doctors. For the first time in decades, Alberta now has more specialists than family physicians.

Despite the recent drop, there are far more physicians per 100,000 people in Alberta than there were 20 or 30 years ago. However, this doesn’t mean that access to health care has become easier. An aging population is placing additional demands on the health care system, and doctors are working fewer hours than they used to: almost seven hours less per week from 2017 to 2021 compared to their hours in 1987 to 1991. And with the recent decline steepest for family doctors, there could be emerging issues with the alignment of doctor supply with patients’ needs, especially in family medicine.

In our future work we will take a more detailed look at the ongoing challenges within the healthcare system, and how Alberta compared to other provinces.

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