The ongoing crisis in Ontario’s health-care system was top of mind as the president of the Ontario Medical Association made his way through Kingston on Thursday to meet with local physician leaders.
Dr. Andrew Park visited the Weller Community Health Centre, Kingston Health Sciences Centre, Dr. David Barber of the department of family medicine, as well as Dr. Jane Philpott, dean of the faculty of health sciences at Queen’s University.
Based in London, Park is an emergency physician and also teaches as an assistant professor at the Schulich School of Medicine at Western University. As president of the OMA, which functions as an advocacy body for Ontario’s physicians, Park represents 43,000 physicians across the province, engaging with colleagues across Ontario to better understand local issues in the medical field as well as the wider physician body to improve overall access to health care across the province.
“We have 40,000 physicians that we represent with an incredible wealth of information and expertise and experience in the system,” he said. “We bring that noise to help shape the health-care system in terms of access to people.”
The OMA is currently working with the provincial government to address three points of crisis: a lack of primary care physicians, an overburden of administrative work for family doctors, and poor access to home and community care in Ontario.
Currently, 2.2 million Ontarians don’t have access to a primary care physician, which Park said has overwhelmed the rest of the health-care system.
“The family doctor is the first point of access and the quarterback for your care and what we consider the foundation of a healthy, healthy, functioning health-care system,” he said.
Kingston has been impacted by the shortage of both emergency and primary care physicians. On Aug. 26, the Urgent Care Centre at Hotel Dieu Hospital reduced its weekend hours due to a lack of emergency doctors. Park acknowledged this as a demonstration of the urgent need for more emergency care physicians in Kingston.
“It’s very concerning,” he said.
A high demand for primary care physicians is one pressing issue in Kingston.
“(We’ve heard) from specialists that they treat a lot of patients without a family physician having to do a lot of primary care, which is not their job as specialists,” Park said. “When specialists are doing other duties without a primary care, it does slow that system down.”
“We want our system to be timely and accessible, and right now we’re struggling with that.”
As an emergency physician himself, he sees the current shortage of emergency physicians and the stressful working environment due to shortages of physicians in Kingston as making it difficult to attract new emergency doctors to the Kingston region.
Park mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic magnified the crisis.
“We pressed pause on a health-care system,” he said. “When we press play and resume on the system, it wasn’t that we started where we left off, but instead it was two to three years where people were two to three years more advanced in their chronic illness and more advanced in their new diagnoses. That placed a tremendous amount of burden.”
By generating better access to home and community care, the medical system will be able to better support patients who don’t need acute care and who would otherwise take up hospital beds at a higher and less efficient cost to Ontario’s hospitals.
“It’s really about access, and we access better when we have a better integrated health-care system,” he said.
Though he believes the provincial government is responding well to the need for increased medical care in Ontario by increasing enrolment in medicine as benefiting the province, he emphasized a greater need for the government to better promote team-based care in Ontario to improve access to health.
“We don’t always meet business practitioners, social workers, pharmacists, dietitians, other allied health care that can then extend up the capacity and position as a team, and we should reel them back in,” he said.
Though Park mentioned the OMA is cognizant of pressing issues in the Ontario health-care system, such as emergency department closures and long wait times for surgeries, the OMA hopes that by putting in services upstream instead of reacting to issues as they come downstream, additional costs will be offset.