A local pharmacist says funding changes made by the provincial government will leave the Kenora community with one less path to health care by next month.
Pharmacy manager and Medicine Shoppe owner Lorna Smith said that starting September 1, the Good Doctors clinic will close, ultimately leaving some residents with a gap of months between their prescriptions.
“Unfortunately, due to the government’s decision to change funding to telemedicine, the walk-in telemedicine clinic will be closing on September 1 at the Medicine Shoppe. Hopefully some of these patients can find a new doctor to help with their health care,” Smith says.
The Good Doctors Clinic is a virtual telemedicine clinic housed in the Medicine Shoppe that served people and tourists who did not have access to a primary care doctor in the area, and was introduced in 2018 to help ease pressures on the local health system.
In a prepared response, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care says it is unable to comment on the circumstances that led to the clinic’s closure, as the doctors are independent contractors who take their own decisions about the services they provide.
But, the ministry goes on to explain that as part of Ontario’s 2021-2024 Medical Services Agreement, virtual care services provided by OHIP had temporary virtual care fee codes whose price was equivalent to that of in-person services during the COVID-19 pandemic, but these end on September 30.
This means that with the compensation structure that was in place before COVID-19, the province will return to paying physicians less per patient for virtual care visits, compared to in-person appointments.
“Although virtual care services provided outside of pre-existing relationships will remain covered by OHIP, the amount physicians are paid for these services will be lower to better reflect the different levels of assessment that may be accomplished in each scenario” , the ministry wrote.
Now, due to the clinic’s closure, Smith is warning the community of the approximately four-month window where residents without access to a primary care physician will not be able to access any services to prescribe them a new prescription.
Smith notes that by January 1, 2023, Ontario hopes to approve an expanded scope of practice for prescribing minor ailments for pharmacists to help fill gaps created by changes to the funding model, but she says that these regulations must be introduced as soon as possible.
“I’m really asking the government to expedite the pharmacist’s expanded scope of practice for prescribing minor ailments – not waiting for January, but doing it sooner,” adds Smith.
Ontario’s proposed new regulation for pharmacists would allow them to prescribe medication for 12 minor ailments, but residents would need a prescription from their Ontario doctor to receive any other type of medication.
The Ministry notes that Ontarians continue to have access to Health Access Ontario, formerly known as TeleHealth, a toll-free, 24/7 telephone service where patients can obtain medical advice from a registered nurse, as opposed to a doctor.