Virtual-care clinics may be adding pressure to the overwhelmed health-care system, the Ontario Medical Association said Thursday, even as some patients and doctors say they are vital alternatives to an otherwise necessary visit to an emergency room.
The OMA comments come as pediatric hospitals, emergency departments and the overall health-care system are struggling to meet the demands of a triple-threat of respiratory syncytial virus, the seasonal flu and COVID-19.
“Virtual-only walk-in clinics may actually be resulting in more churn, more cost to our system,” said Dr. Tara Kiran, a family physician at Toronto’s St. Michael Hospital and senior author of a preliminary study that compared patients who visited their own family doctors virtually with people who visited a virtual-only clinic.
The preprint study, which has not been peer reviewed, found that virtual walk-in patients are twice as likely to visit an emergency department within 30 days due to a lack of continuity of care.
However, some patients and doctors are lamenting a reduction in virtual care options as doctors leave the platforms after the province and the OMA reached an agreement to reduce fees paid to doctors for virtual visits, effective Dec. 1.