As Ontario continues to lift COVID-19 restrictions, many patients are wondering why their doctors’ offices aren’t keeping up when it comes to returning to in-person appointments.
Rami Sarieddine grew so frustrated by his inability to get an appointment to see an urologist, he flew to Dubai where he used to live to see a specialist there.
“I would understand if this was the case across the globe, but why would I go to another country?” he said, “and my urologist in the other country, he was 70.”
While his health insurance and finances were able to cover the trip, he knows many others don’t have that privilege. Sarieddine also knows he can’t pick up his family to go to another country every time someone needs to see a doctor.
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Both his wife and son were also unable to see doctors after they needed to in recent months. A recent call with a doctor for his son who had a possible chest infection left him exasperated.
“If I’m going to talk to the family doctor over the phone, I’d rather go to WebMD,” said Sarieddine.
It’s a frustration Natisha Brown is also experiencing. Four months ago, Brown gave birth and while she’s having no trouble getting in to see a pediatrician, it’s a different story when it comes to both her obstetrician and family doctors.
Brown was told the earliest she could see her O.B. was in April; for her family doctor, the first available appointment in the office isn’t until May.
“If I could try a walk-in [doctor’s office], I would try a walk-in,” said Brown. “I called my family doctor, because my family doctor knows me.”
She said she hasn’t questioned why the in-person policy remains in place, but would like the province to give doctors a nudge when it comes to seeing more patients in person.
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The head of the Ontario Medical Association pushed back on any suggestion that doctors were reticent to return to the office and said the issue has more to patient backlogs caused by lockdowns and provincial directives.
Dr. Adam Kassam also pointed out that those patient backlogs would be much more severe were it not for the adoption of virtual appointments throughout the pandemic.
Still, Dr. Kassam said virtual appointments are likely here to stay.
“What we now have to focus on is getting through that backlog of care, both in person and virtual where appropriate,” said Dr. Kassam, “and figure out a road map for the future and the appropriateness that comes with it as we think about delivering care on a meaningful and timely way for our patients.”
Ontario’s government has been pushing for more relaxed public health measures in recent weeks, but it’s unclear how much those plans include doctors’ offices.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene would only say in a written statement that negotiations between the province and the Ontario Medical Association are ongoing.
“These discussions are guided by the goal of balancing a patient-centred approach and patient preference,” said Hilkene in an email.
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