10/23/2013 05:50 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Doctors survey flags lack of patient-care resources, need for workforce planning

TORONTO - A national survey shows doctors are worried about gaps in the health-care system that may be harming patient care.

The 2013 National Physician Survey found doctors' concerns include insufficient hospital beds and inadequate access to advanced diagnostic imaging tools.

A key issue addressed by the more than 10,000 respondents included work hours: physicians spend 54 hours a week on average providing patient care, research and teaching.

Most average an additional 110 hours per month providing on-call services on top of regular practice hours.

While almost 60 per cent of doctors said they were employed to their satisfaction, nearly one-third said they were overworked.

The survey also found that as Canada's population ages, care requirements are shifting — both geriatricians and dermatologists reported major increases in demand for their services.

"Canada's doctors know that we need to make changes now to respond to the evolving health-care needs of our aging society," said Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). "As a first step, that means we need our federal government to lead the development of a national strategy for seniors' care in collaboration with the provinces and territories. The time to act is now."

Over- and under-employment also was a key issue in the survey, a research project jointly conducted by the College of Family Physicians, the CMA and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Being over- or underemployed was an issue most common among younger doctors and specialists in resource-intensive disciplines such as cardiovascular, thoracic and orthopedic surgery, nuclear medicine and gastroenterology, which require access to operating rooms, diagnostic equipment and other resources.

Critical-care physicians reported the highest rate of under- or unemployment at 31 per cent.

"Ensuring Canada has the right mix and supply of physicians to meet the needs of patients requires first and foremost that the federal government lead development of a national health human resources strategy and a permanent agency to support ongoing health workforce planning," said Dr. Cecil Rorabeck, president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.