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‘The time is now’: Doctors ask Canadians how to reform primary care

From CTV Your Morning on Monday

Believing that “better is possible,” a family doctor and other researchers are asking Canadians to share their experiences with the country’s primary health-care system – and what they want from it – as a way to help guide future reform.

Dr. Tara Kiran, a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and one of the doctors behind the OurCare research survey, told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday, while the COVID-19 pandemic “shone a light” on some of the cracks that exist in the current system, it also presents an opportunity to try and repair it.

“I do think that better is possible. I think that we can reimagine a future system and that the time is now,” she said.

The survey comes after Kiran and others recently published a study that found more than 170,000 patients in Ontario lost their family doctors in the first six months of the pandemic, equating to nearly three per cent of the province’s practicing family physicians.

Ontario needs more primary-care practitioners, province’s COVID-19 advisory table says

From The Globe and Mail

Ontario’s independent COVID-19 Science Advisory Table highlights the work of primary-care practitioners during the pandemic in its final report, and warns of challenges ahead as treating patients with the virus moves from intensive-care units to family doctors’ offices.

The report highlights long-standing challenges in Ontario that pose a threat, not just to the routine functioning of the health system but to future pandemic preparedness.

The province needs more primary-care practitioners to meet the growing needs of patients, says the report released on Monday. The province must also better integrate primary care into the health care system, it says, noting that there is little infrastructure in place that would allow policy-makers to share information with family doctors, trusted sources for their patients.

The report contains three related briefs: what Ontario family doctors did during the first two years of the pandemic; the factors that affected their capacity to deliver care; and the lessons policy-makers should heed to strengthen primary care as the pandemic evolves. Danielle Martin, a senior author on the report, provided expertise on primary care to the science table.

“People’s confidence in the vaccine often comes down to trust, and family doctors have these trusting relationships with people,” said Tara Kiran, another author of the new report and a family physician and researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital, part of Unity Health Toronto.

How did the pandemic affect school grades? This researcher wants to find out

From Unity Health Toronto – by Ana Gajic

Now that the kids are back at their desks, parents and teachers may be wondering: How far have they lagged behind after two years of pandemic interruptions?

Dr. Sloane Freeman, a scientist at the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions and a pediatrician at St. Michael’s, wants to find out. She received funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) to study whether Ontario high school students’ academic test scores changed over the course of the pandemic and how students experiencing marginalization were impacted.

We spoke with Dr. Freeman to understand the role education plays in health, and how the pandemic may have affected both.

Anecdotally, before you started this research project, what were you seeing in terms of children’s academic achievement during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dr. Freeman: The pandemic has influenced all of society and every determinant of health. Education is one important one. Schools were closed. Kids didn’t have access to in-person education and virtual education was really hard for a lot of children.

We’ve already started to see the impact, especially in younger children, in terms of learning differences. I think those can be positively addressed in this school year. It is absolutely not a lost generation of children that isn’t going to succeed academically. We just need to be mindful of the impact the pandemic had on academics, on social, emotional, mental and physical health, and they’re all related.

As a pediatrician, what kind of issues have you been seeing over the last couple of years that you didn’t see as much of before COVID?

Dr. Freeman: I have noticed a spike in anxiety in younger children. It is more common to see anxiety in adolescents. Now I’m seeing a lot more mood impacts and certainly anxiety in younger kids, even as young as kindergarten. That impacts education as well – it’s harder to concentrate, focus, to feel good about learning, when you’re worrying about other things.

What gaps in knowledge are you hoping to fill by exploring the literacy scores, math scores and the academic achievement of children in Ontario through your research?

Dr. Freeman: We’re looking to see what happened to the academic achievement of Ontario’s youth  since the pandemic, and whether there were differences in standardized test scores before and during the pandemic. Our study captures high school aged kids, because that’s when the standardized tests were done over the pandemic.

One of the main points that we’re trying to address is whether there are differences and whether they were influenced by socioeconomic factors, mainly income. Did the gap that traditionally exists between children from higher and lower income families get bigger during the pandemic? Did it narrow? Did it change at all? Those are the questions that we’re trying to address.