Ontario doctors warn of primary care 'crisis' as care shifts to virtual visits
A doctor checks a patient with a stethoscope. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Thomas Kienzle
OTTAWA -- “How can we keep being heroes if we’re going to go bankrupt in our practices?” asks Ottawa family doctor Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, clinics in Ottawa and across the province switched from in-person practices to virtual care, including on-the-phone and video calls.
Ontario implemented five new billing codes to allow doctors to get paid for virtual appointments, but doctors say there’s a glitch.
“The Ontario Ministry of Health hasn’t reprogrammed their computers and probably can’t reprogram their computers for quite a while because they’re using COBOL.”
Dr. Kaplan-Myrth says it costs $17,000 a month to keep her practice open. Her group of 25 doctors represent 35,000 patients.
“It has been a demoralizing experience to now know that our provincial government has decided to delay funding for services already provided for at least three months,” respirologist Dr. Neil Maharaj wrote in a blog featured on the Ontario Medical Association’s website.
There are different models of care depending on the clinic.
Dr. Barry Dworkin’s clinic functions on a capitated payment model, meaning his clinic gets paid based on the number of patients.
It’s still a 5-10 per cent loss in income for him. He believes the province should allow doctors to bill under the old codes.
“That would solve everything in 10 seconds. Why should any clinic have to suffer the consequences of a bureaucratic mismanagement,” Dr. Dworkin said.
Kaplan-Myrth’s income is fee-for-service, meaning she’s paid based on the number of patients she sees and bills.
“This isn’t about money. This is about wanting to keep our practices going.”
CTV News Ottawa reached out to the Ministry of Health for comment.
In Friday’s briefing with reporters, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said she’s working with the OMA to find a solution and acknowledge she knows there’s a problem.
However, Elliott wouldn’t say whether doctors could use the old billing system or not.