A few years ago, my father asked me to look at what he thought was a bruise that wouldn’t go away. He was able to see his family doctor, who has known our family for decades. Within a week he had a biopsy. Within two weeks he was scheduled for surgery for a new diagnosis of cancer.
Over the next few years, he received intensive treatments. During this time, he experienced infections, followups and had other questions about his health. His family doctor saw him through this journey.
When he developed an unusual rash 10 years later, he returned to his family doctor. She did a skin punch biopsy in her exam room and confirmed the cancer was back. Because it was caught so early, my dad was able to be treated successfully for a second time for a cancer that can kill people within two years.
Since his diagnosis, my dad has had an additional 18 years with his children and grandchildren.
My father is lucky that he had a family doctor who knows him and his medical history. Family doctors are the foundation of our health-care system. They provide comprehensive, continuous, co-ordinated and preventative care from cradle to grave. They are also the gateway to the rest of the health-care system. Without a family doctor, it’s difficult to get a referral for diagnostic tests or to see specialists or surgeons.
Yet 2.3 million Ontarians do not have a family doctor and that number is expected to double in only two years. That’s one in three Ontarians who won’t have access to health care when and where they need it.
We share the government’s concerns about the number of Ontarians without a family doctor. But health care is not a retail transaction that can be segmented into a single event or treatment. It is about more than an injection or prescription.
The Ontario Medical Association believes that every Ontarian should have access to a physician as well as a highly skilled health-care team that is connected and working with the full knowledge of patients, their lives and their history.
Each member of the health-care team, working together, to the full extent of their training has an important and vital role to play.
We’re calling on the provincial government to invest in this model of primary care throughout the province. Only 30 per cent of physicians now have government-funded teams, meaning 70 per cent of family doctors and their patients do not. That’s more than 10 million people.
As a patient, is it easy to drop by a pharmacy or a nurse practitioner-led clinic for a prescription? Yes, but there should be a system of support for that visit. Right now, all that happens is the pharmacy sends a fax (yes, a fax) to your family doctor, assuming you have one, to notify them you received a new medication. This is not teamwork and it is definitely not a system. This is passive communication at best, and at worse, it is unsafe.
Fragmenting the health-care system further and reducing care to singular episodes is not the answer. Investing in team-based care is. We need a system that is wrapped around patients and ensures people are receiving the best our health-care professionals have to offer.
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:
Leslie Shepherd, OMA Director of Earned and Social Media, at media@OMA.org or 647-300-1753.