Ontario doctors struggle to keep up amid ‘unnecessary’ requests for coronavirus clearance notes

As Canada continues to see a rise in COVID-19 cases, Ontario family doctors are struggling to juggle requests from employers for coronavirus-related clearance letters in addition to treating patients affected by unrelated ailments.

“Speaking for a system that’s already stretched quite thin and overburdened, even more so with the possibly emerging public health crisis that we face, family doctors should not be inundated with unnecessary visits over a virus that we can’t even test on an outpatient basis in our offices,” Dr. Fadie Amin, a family physician and a managing partner of the St. Luke’s Medical Centre in Toronto, told Global News.

Amin said he has received calls from several patients with requests by businesses for a physical exam and a written note so they can return to work after travelling abroad. He said the patients he has dealt with to date have been “completely asymptomatic.”

“These are major corporations here in Canada that, for starters, should have their own private doctors clearing their employees for what essentially amounts to an uninsured service,” Amin said.

“I just don’t think that an employee should ever have to pay out of their own pocket for a service that is completely unwarranted and requested by these large corporations.”

Amin said he tries his best to see patients within two to four days of being called for an appointment. However, he said in recent weeks patients might have to wait between eight and 10 days.

“That’s frustrating to me as a physician,” Amin said, adding he’s concerned about a potential further spike in calls after March Break travel.

“Family doctors, like myself, don’t want to have to see perfectly healthy patients when there are very sick ones who need our time more.

“I’d much rather spend time on my cancer patients or be able to see my infant and toddler patients who need to see me as soon as possible, than use an appointment slot to provide clearance for a perfectly healthy individual simply because their boss or their company said so.”

As some patients grapple with wait times, Amin said he’s concerned about those people who are trying to avoid medical offices totally.

“In some cases that’s a good thing, but in some cases that might worsen their condition because they’re afraid to come in,” he said.

Despite what he said he has experienced, Amin praised some businesses for being “responsible” by giving employees the flexibility to work from home for an extended period after travel.

Dr. Sohail Gandhi, president of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), told Global News he and the OMA, which represents the province’s doctors, have heard of varying responses by companies to COVID-19.

“I’m seeing businesses that are very forward-thinking and very practical,” he said, referencing policy changes such as waiving sick note requirements.

“But we are unfortunately seeing some businesses that are going quite the other way and acting more, instead of out of prudence, almost out of a sense of fear, frankly, which is not helpful.”

Gandhi said it has been a long-standing policy of the OMA for rules surrounding doctors’ notes to be loosened. He also called for businesses to pay for notes since those aren’t covered under OHIP.

“It’s really not helpful for companies to send patients to their doctors for the sole purpose of getting a sick note,” he said, adding this time of year is especially difficult.

“We just don’t think it’s ideal at this time when we’re already busy with flu season … our physicians are needed to provide care for those who are truly sick, and that’s where our resources need to go.”

When asked about the government’s handling of the outbreak, he praised officials. He said the OMA has been apart of regular meetings and called the government’s approach “very practical and very prudent,” adding there have been many evidence-based decisions made.

Gandhi also encouraged people to consult the OMA website and official sources to get more information about COVID-19 and its symptoms.

As of early Thursday, there were 42 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario.

Meanwhile, Amin said he had a message for managers as officials and medical staff continue to deal with the effects of coronavirus.

“There are only so many hours I can work and patients I can see in a given day,” he said.

“We need these corporations to help work with us in helping keep their employees, our patients, and the general public safe. I know their intention may come from a good place, but we can’t be overburdened by unnecessary visits for healthy people.”

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