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OMA research finds virtual care not associated with strain on emergency departments


Ontario patients did not turn to emergency departments as a substitute for in-person visits during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That from new research from the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) and the records of its nearly 8,000 doctors.

Medical professionals said they're not surprised with the findings; many doctors had to make a switch to virtual when the government paused most non-emergency services.

"When medically appropriate, virtual care is incredibly convenient. You don't need to take a day off work or a child out of school or put an elderly parent in the vehicle and drive them when the weather's bad," said OMA president Dr. Rose Zacharias.

According to the OMA, in 2018, only four per cent of family doctors offered video visits, while virtual care now accounts for more than a quarter of all visits.

What makes this important, the association said it didn't find evidence people were going to the emergency room because in-person care was less available.

Zacharias said every Ontarian knows emergency rooms right now are strained.

"It's only natural to ask why, somethings new and different like virtual care being done by a good majority of family doctors from their offices, is that contributing to the strain on the emergency departments and this study released today shows us the answer is clearly ‘no,’" she said.

Dave Courtemanche is the executive director of the City of Lakes Family Health Team.

He told CTV News virtual appointments have proven to be a useful tool among their physicians.

"When you ask patients, lots of patients appreciate that option. Especially here in northern Ontario and in the middle of winter," Courtemanche said.

"I think it's made access easier and of course there are issues, you have to have the Internet infrastructure, both at your clinic and in the patients' home, you have to have appropriate bandwidth, all of those things come into play so far some patients, maybe it's not as easy but for people who live far from the clinic and are trying to get access, it's easier," he added.

The OMA study looked at records of 7,936 physicians in family health groups and family health organizations from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.

The full study can be found here. Top Stories


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