The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant backlog in health care services, which has worsened in recent months as patients return to doctors’ offices, according to a new report.
In response, the Ontario Medical Association has again called for the adoption of its five-point plan to improve healthcare. The plan aims to reduce waiting times and expand mental health and addicted services, improving home and community care, enhancing public health and pandemic preparedness, and giving each patient a team of digitally connected healthcare providers.
“We were dealing with long waits before the pandemic, but that added up with millions of patient procedures that have piled up and need to catch up,” said Rose Zacharias, president of the Ontario Medical Association. Medscape Medical News.
“It affects people’s quality of life, and it has become a heavy burden on mental health,” she said. “When we asked people about the most important issues in the upcoming elections, health care was their top priority.”
Association first published its five-point plan in October 2021.
‘We need doctors’
The backlog of epidemics has grown to nearly 22 million servings, representing an increase of one million in the past three months, according to an analysis by the association. The increase likely reflects the pause in non-emergency treatments and procedures as the Omicron variant became popular at the beginning of 2022.
Zakaria said patients are also beginning to re-engage in the health care system after waiting during the pandemic, and many of them are showing up sick and have more undiagnosed health needs.
The backlog includes a variety of services, such as routine checkups, child immunizations, diagnostic tests, and surgeries, as well as newly identified problems that now need treatment. Some patients may wait for more than one service.
“I work in the emergency department and in mental health care and I see people in crisis, and they sit and wait to receive care,” Zakaria said. “For example, over the weekend, many patients with addiction and at risk of harming themselves were waiting to be taken to a psychiatrist, with the longest waiting time being up to 80 hours.”
To address the backlog, the Ontario Medical Association has developed a set of 75 recommendations, The Ontario Prescription: Physicians’ 5-Point Plan for Better Health Care. The plan urges lawmakers to improve access to care and invest in the health care system over the next four years.
The plan’s first priority is to reduce waiting times and backlogs of services by addressing physician shortages, providing adequate funding for community hospitals and clinics, shifting more surgical services to community-based specialist environments, increasing the number of nurses and technicians for imaging services, and improving service integration across palliative care, and long-term care. home care, and community care.
The next step is to expand mental health and addiction services in the community by improving consistency of care through regional standards, providing mental health support to frontline health care providers, continuing virtual mental health services, and increasing mental health initiatives in schools and communities.
The third priority is to improve and expand home and other community care by including home care in primary care, making sure that people without a family doctor can access home care, increasing funding for home care, and hiring enough skilled staff to provide this care , and giving a tax break to families that employ a full-time caregiver.
The fourth priority is to strengthen public health and pandemic preparedness by providing a predictable funding formula for local public health units, investing in better public health information systems, and conducting an independent and unbiased review of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fifth priority is to give each patient a team of healthcare providers and connect them digitally by increasing support for team-based and integrated care, increasing the number of care coordinators, and expanding virtual care.
The plan also makes 12 recommendations for addressing health care challenges unique to northern Ontario, where patients tend to be older and sicker, on average, than the rest of the population.
We need doctors immediately in our area. We wait 30% longer for knee surgeries and 65% longer for MRIs because we lack the resources,” said Stephen Wehrjoki, MD, a family physician in Dryden. Medscape Medical News. Dryden is located between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, both of which are about a 4 hour drive away.
“All the pressures felt by the rest of the province have been magnified in smaller areas,” he said. “People have worse outcomes because diagnosis and treatment are delayed.”
“Everyone is struggling”
Zakaria said this year’s elections will make a difference in healthcare policy in the coming years. The Ontario Medical Association ranked each party’s political program and public policy announcements with regard to whether they align with the Five Point Plan.
Ratings range from one to three stethoscopes, with one stethoscope representing modest commitment to address priorities, two stethoscopes representing moderate commitment, and three stethoscopes representing the greatest commitment.
Out of a maximum of 18 stethoscopes, each party fell between a 9 and 11. The New Democratic Party of Ontario had 11 stethoscopes, followed by the Progressive and Liberal Conservatives, 10 each, and the Greens, with nine.
“From children to parents to grandparents, everyone has health problems,” Zakaria said. “What Ontario doctors want to make clear is that it is not a mystery how to align ourselves with what people need in our health care system.”
The report was published by the Ontario Medical Association, which represents more than 43,000 physicians, medical students and retired physicians in the province.
Ontario Medical Association. Posted online October 26, 2021. full text