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News release
April 14, 2021

Fewer doctor’s visits during pandemic a troubling trend – especially for children

TORONTO, April 14, 2021 – The number of children seeing doctors during the pandemic has dropped by about 30 per cent, a troubling trend that is affecting all Ontarians and putting their health at risk, according to new billing data released by the OMA today.

The 31-per-cent drop in doctor’s visits by children in 2020 compared to 2019 far outpaced the drop by adults (14 per cent) in 2020, according to OHIP billing records. The age group most affected is children four to eight, whose interactions with doctors were down 39 per cent. The drop was least pronounced among infants and children three and under.

“Fewer Ontario parents have been seeking care from doctors for themselves and their children during the pandemic,” said OMA President Dr. Samantha Hill. “Children have been subjected to significant disruption over this year, which has experts concerned about consequences on their development and overall well-being. This new data has us worried, because if the decreased number of visits is not the result of decreased need, there may be further long-term effects on children’s health. Your doctor’s office is open and they are available to you in a variety of ways.”

The billing data also shows:

  • a huge drop in doctor visits by adults (35 per cent) and their children (55 per cent) in April 2020 as the pandemic set in, with visits picking up over the summer for children and then dropping off again in December, as the third wave began
  • the drop in the number of doctor visits for adults and children spans across all physician care settings and will likely contribute to the pandemic backlog of deferred and delayed health care
  • diagnostic visits were down 51 per cent for children and 32 per cent for adults, suggesting the backlog could be even greater as more health issues are diagnosed
  • newborns and children three and under (24 per cent) were the least affected by the drop in doctor’s visits in 2020, and children ages four to eight (39 per cent) were the most affected group across all care settings and all types of care

The data comes from OHIP billings by Ontario’s physicians between April 2019 and December 2020, the first nine months after the global pandemic took hold. The data includes in-person and virtual visits to doctors.

It’s not immediately clear why there has been a drop-off in visits to doctors. It’s possible children had fewer illnesses, such as colds and the flu, because they were at home for large parts of 2020, physically distancing from others and following good hygiene practices. It’s also possible families deferred immunizations or non-urgent health care because they had concerns about being exposed to the virus.

“Ontario’s doctors are here for you and your children,” said OMA CEO Allan O’Dette. “We encourage you not to put a pause on taking care of your health and that of your children. Staying safe includes keeping up with immunizations for your kids and making sure any health issues for you and your family are assessed early.”

The OMA will be discussing the findings and the COVID-19 pandemic’s potential long-term effects on children’s health at a media briefing on Wednesday, April 14, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Dr. Hill will discuss why it’s important for children to be cared for by a doctor despite the pandemic, while Dr. Sava Merchant, a pediatrician in Vaughan, will discuss the impact of COVID on children’s mental health and social development. Dr. Daniel Rosenfield, a pediatric emergency physician at the Hospital for Sick Children, will talk about the long-term effects of the pandemic on children. And Dr. Vicky Fera, an infectious disease physician at Markham Stouffville Hospital, will talk about the expected timing of vaccinations for children in Canada.

About the OMA

The Ontario Medical Association represents Ontario’s 43,000-plus physicians, medical students and retired physicians, advocating for and supporting doctors while strengthening the leadership role of doctors in caring for patients. Our vision is to be the trusted voice in transforming Ontario’s health-care system.

For more information, please contact: OMA Media Relations