Objective: To describe environmental health problems encountered in some Ontario family practices and to describe differences between the environmental concerns of urban (small and large) and rural physicians.
Design: A self-completed questionnaire was mailed to 536 family physicians with hospital affiliations in three areas of Ontario.
Setting: Family practices (rural, small urban, and large urban) in Ontario.
Participants: Of 521 eligible community family physicians with hospital affiliations, 214 returned usable questionnaires for a 41% response rate.
Main outcome measures: Environmental health problems encountered in practice were measured using questions about physician concerns, reported patient questions, physician-identified high-risk groups, problems related to environmental exposure, self-rated knowledge, and current and preferred sources of information on environmental health effects.
Results: Physicians were highly concerned and reported many patient questions about the health effects of environmental exposures. Pregnant women, agricultural workers, and children were considered important at-risk groups. Self-ratings of knowledge were generally very low. Rural physicians were concerned about agricultural pesticide exposure and their patients about moldy hay. Urban physicians had different concerns about lead and reported patient concerns about exposure to Great Lakes fish. All groups used similar sources of current environmental health information.
Conclusions: Family physicians who participated in this study identified important patient and professional concerns about environmental health issues and reported a lack of resources to meet those concerns. This study provides information to family medicine residency programs and continuing medical education providers to help them enhance their focus on environmental health.