Ontarians dropped off by GPs say they should at least have been notified
When Tarek Emara called his GP north of Toronto three weeks ago hoping to make an appointment, he didn’t expect to be told he was no longer a patient at the clinic.
“The receptionist … takes the call and says, ‘Oh, we haven’t seen you since 2016 and that’s why we took you off your list and you’re no longer at this clinic,'” Emara, who lives in Markham, Ontario, said CBC Toronto.
“Obviously it’s very disappointing, I shouldn’t be penalized for staying healthy.”
Emara is now among more than two million people without a family doctor in Ontario, according to a report released last month. In 2020, 1.8 million Ontarians reported not having a family doctor, a number that has risen to 2.2 million in 2022, according to data from Inspire-PHC, a public health research group. Many years of research have found that people without a regular family doctor are more reliant on emergency rooms and are more likely to be hospitalized.
Last month, Emara called Health Connect Ontario, formerly Telehealth Ontario, after experiencing dizziness. He said he was told to see a doctor within four hours and went to an emergency clinic.
Emara said the doctor at that clinic told him to let his GP know what happened. So he called Richmond Hill, Ontario. clinic only to find out he’s been removed from their patient list.
Emara said he should have been informed “at the very least” that his GP was removing him from the clinic’s patient list. Now the clinic is no longer accepting new patients and he is looking for a new family doctor, he said.
“It shouldn’t happen that you get dropped unilaterally unless you did something wrong.”
Emara said he visits a private clinic once a year, which is covered by his work insurance, but has otherwise had no reason to see his GP since 2016.
Doctors have an obligation to reach the patient
According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), if a patient is absent from practice for an extended period of time, physicians must first “make a good faith effort” to determine whether the patient would prefer to continue the relationship.
“Physicians must send at least one inquiry letter to the patient’s last known address,” the college’s website says.
“If no response is received or the patient indicates they have been treated elsewhere, doctors can formally remove the patient from the practice.
Almost two years ago, Cedric Hong found himself in the same situation.
Hong, who lives in Scarborough, called his GP, whom he has seen for almost 20 years, hoping to get a check-up. He was told the clinic removes patients who don’t come for more than a year, a policy he says was unaware of.
“I [was] very confused because this is my family doctor. I’ve been going to them…since I was born,” Hong said.
“It’s very frustrating. Right now I have [thought] I’m just going to find another doctor… and then I realized how hard it was to find another doctor.”
Is the pandemic partly responsible?
Since then, he said, he has had no luck finding a family doctor. He said he’s also used Health Care Connect, a program that directs Ontarians who don’t have a doctor to a family healthcare provider who may be taking on new patients – but he’s had no luck.
“A few weeks ago I did [also] spent a good two to four hours calling and texting random clinics only to get nothing in the end.
Many experts blame the pandemic for the surge in the number of Ontarians without a GP, prompting hundreds of GPs to close their practices. They warn that many aging baby boomer doctors are looking to retire.
Meanwhile, Emara said his battle to find a GP continues.
“There aren’t any clinics in my area that are accepting new patients, so I’m not sure where to go from here.”