Access to Quality Medical and Health Services - Rural Ontario Foresight Papers

Date: November 19, 2019

John C. Hogenbirk, M.Sc., Alain P. Gauthier, Ph.D. & Jennifer D. Walker, Ph.D.

For communities in rural areas and in under-developed regions such as Northern Ontario, greater geographic distance, sparse populations and the patchiness of already-scarce resources pose challenges in the delivery of services such as healthcare. In response, many of these regions have used their strong sense of community and willingness to make do with limited resources to mitigate these challenges. This has stimulated innovations in healthcare programs that have had a positive effect in rural regions and can benefit urbanized areas. As Ontario transforms its healthcare system, the time is right to develop and implement innovative health care programs in rural and Northern Ontario.

Rural and northern regions in Ontario are the harbingers of an aging province and can offer some of the harshest proving grounds for healthcare programs. Pioneering programs from these regions have demonstrated ability to improve access to care. For example, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, located in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, has increased the medical and health workforce and has a positive economic impact on historically underserviced region of Northern Ontario. In another example, the Ontario Telemedicine Network has transcended distance through the use of information and telecommunications technology to improve access to a range of medical or healthcare services. In addition, the work of Indigenous and Francophone populations to adapt existing programs or to develop new programs that address their needs are often able to provide insights and innovations for all Ontarians, including other minority populations. 

Undeniably, some rural-based healthcare delivery innovations have not worked and so the challenges of geographic distance, restricted travel, low population density and dispersed, scarce resources should not be underestimated. Problems of inequitable access to quality healthcare services remain. However, as the examples show, innovations in rural and northern healthcare delivery have emerged to address these challenges and improve equity. Rural regions and Northern Ontario can continue to be the province’s test bed for programs evolving to meet emerging needs of an aging population, as well as demonstration sites for programs incorporating new knowledge or changing technology and infrastructure. 

Download the Access to Quality Medical and Health Services Foresight Paper:

English: Access to Quality Medical and Health Services: Examples from Northern Ontario Foresight Paper.

French: Access to Quality Medical and Health Services: Examples from Northern Ontario Foresight Paper.  

Complete Rural Ontario Foresight Papers 2019