Ont. doctors set their own hours, leave patients in the lurch

(Fotolia)

(Fotolia)

Jonathan Sher, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- Ontario family doctors have long set their own hours, but that might have to change if patients are to be better served, says a local doctor.

Dr. Scott McKay says many GPs think they should still call the shots in setting office hours for patients.

Until now, they've been free to do so by a health ministry that doesn't require them to be open every weekday or every weekday afternoon.

But the laissez-faire approach isn't always working for patients who struggle to get quick appointments -- a struggle that can land them in an ER instead, at huge cost to the health-care system.

"Should (the ministry) be more prescriptive (about hours)? That is one of the big debates," said McKay.

It used to be family doctors had a clear financial motive to open their doors: They were paid by OHIP for each assessment or test they did.

But in 2005, the province offered docs a new way to get paid. They could join family health organizations, whose pay was mainly based on the number and type of patients they signed up, regardless of the number of services they provided.

Critics say the new model that has grown in popularity has led some doctors to take advantage.

"Some doctors are more focused on the money," Medpoint Health Care president Alex Hanham said. "I have met doctors with more than 5,000 rostered patients who work 20 hours a week."

Challenges in getting same-day appointments have left some patients without any good options, McKay said.

The health ministry had hoped to meet patients' needs by paying doctors to be on-call. Patients who couldn't get an appointment could phone Telehealth and speak to a nurse, who could hook that patient up with an on-call physician.

But doctors were uncomfortable diagnosing patients on the phone without seeing them, McKay said.


Photos