Opinion: Newborns in Canada must have better primary-care access

Op-ed in The Globe and Mail by Dr. Sloane Freeman

The OurCare national research survey estimates that 6.5 million Canadians over the age of 18 lack a primary-care physician, and a significant number of these people are parents with newborns.

Without a primary-care provider, newborns are especially vulnerable to falling through the cracks within our health care system. This is an even greater problem for newcomer families and those who are not familiar with navigating the Canadian health system.

Newborns require multiple doctor visits in the first days and weeks of life to monitor feeding, weight gain and possible jaundice. Babies born prematurely or with a low birth weight need even closer surveillance. Without close monitoring and follow-up babies are at risk of dehydration, jaundice, serious infections and unrecognized congenital health problems.

Many parents bring their newborns to emergency departments and urgent-care centres because they have nowhere else to turn. Some provinces have set up mobile clinics for newborns who don’t have a family doctor.

As hospital-based pediatricians in the downtown core, my colleagues and I ask every parent of a newborn if they have access to a primary-care doctor for their child. Most of the time the answer is a resounding “No.” Even for parents who do have primary-care providers for their newborns, long travel times and challenges in scheduling appointments make it difficult for them to access care within the first few days of life.

This crisis was heightened during the pandemic, when in-person health care access was restricted. Virtual care falls short for newborns who require physical examinations and weight checks to assess hydration status and growth. Another important consideration is that routine immunizations begin at two months of age, leaving little time for families to secure a primary-care provider for their infants to begin vaccinations.

Read The Article