Recent funding changes have cut access to virtual health care in Ontario, and now, some patients are left with covering their medical expenses.
As of Dec. 1, 2022 OHIP-funded virtual primary care and urgent care services were affected on Rocket Doctor by the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) and the Ontario Ministry of Health.
Rocket Doctor is a virtual health platform and technology company that allows Canadians to book appointments with doctors from the comfort of their home in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, providing access and quality for patients and support for doctors.
OMA announced changes to the Physicians Service Agreement (PSA) detailing that family and emergency doctors seeing patients online will see their fees reduced by 50 to 65 per cent and pediatricians by 75 per cent.
READ MORE: Meth-related ER visits in Ontario skyrocketed over 17-year period: study
These reductions cause insufficient hours of family physicians, emergency physicians and pediatricians to continue offering extensive services funded by OHIP in Ontario.
Amid growing shortages and strains on Ontario’s healthcare system, patients who require urgent care are forced into Emergency Departments or walk-in clinics to potentially wait hours for visits and having to pay out of pocket for services that were free, according Dr. William Cherniak, founder and CEO of Rocket Doctor.
Rocket Doctor is not a virtual walk-in clinic but a service that connects residents with licensed Canadian physicians who provide medical advice, diagnosis and treatment using video call or a text chat option available to Ontarians.
Medical doctors can provide follow-ups on the platform, for bloodwork, labs, imaging, and make referrals to specialists, which continue to be covered by OHIP, Cherniak says.
If a patient needs urgent medical assistance and their doctor is away, they can see a different physician right away, who has access to their medical records, or they can wait until their medical doctor is available.
READ MORE: The world’s best hospitals were revealed and this Toronto hospital broke through the top 5
“The funding cuts (agreed to and encouraged by the OMA) did not impact Rocket Doctor as a company. Rather, they made it so that Family and Emergency physicians practicing medicine on our platform were unable to provide the same level of care to patients, given 50% reductions in reimbursement,” Cherniak said to Now Toronto.
On Rocket Doctor’s website, patients in B.C. are matched with a doctor for free. In Ontario, patients are promoted to pay $55 for a single live chat and healthcare packages range from $50 to $107 a month for continued services.
“Millions of people lack access to a family doctor across Canada, and millions more are unable to see their family doctor in a timely fashion and/or when they might have a medical condition they are concerned about in the moment, and so resort to emergency departments,” Cherniak continued.
According to Rocket Doctor, 1.8 million Ontarians currently live without a family doctor, and by 2025, this figure is expected to reach 3 million.
“I believe that the Ontario Provincial Government could convene a meeting where they bring in stakeholders from the public, from hospitals, from technology companies like ours, and also invite the OMA (but not only the OMA).”
Rocket Doctor’s founder is hopeful that deeply discussing the benefits of virtual care and determining how the fee codes can be modified “to best support patients, such that physicians can provide comprehensive care to the millions of Ontarians in need, even those without a family doctor,” would be a step in the right direction.
“I would love to see Ontario innovate to use new models to bring equitable access to care to everyone.”