Parents and healthcare experts are speaking out after learning that an online pediatric service that has helped keep sick children out of overwhelmed Ontario hospitals will no longer be free starting next week due to cuts in provincial fees.
KixCare, a clinic that provides on-demand, 24-hour pediatric care, makes the move as the province moves to cut the fees it pays doctors for virtual visits from $37 to $15 per patient on December 1.
The clinic, which has seen patients without referral, will instead offer a paid monthly subscription that will cost parents $29 per month.
“Now is just not the right time, if ever, to introduce these discounts,” said Dr. Harley Eisman, co-founder and chief medical officer of KixCare, which saw nearly 20,000 patients last year. according to its co-founder and CEO Daniel Warner.
The cuts come as children’s medical centers across the country, such as the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, are struggling with escalating hospital admissions due to COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Some patients wait up to 12 hours to be seen, according to data obtained from SickKids. And some parents say they have nowhere to take their child because their family doctor or pediatrician won’t see a patient in person if they have symptoms of COVID-19.
Virtual fee reductions are ‘deplorable’, says parent
Leah Littlepage said the service has helped her 16-month-old daughter stay out of the emergency department at least four times in the past year.
“It’s unfortunate that funding for this program is being cut just as children’s hospitals are overwhelmed,” said Littlepage, who lives in Ottawa.
She said when she heard that KixCare would become a pay-per-access service due to the new reduced pediatrician fees “my heart sank.”
“Mom groups are inundated with parents asking each other for medical advice because they have nowhere to go.”
Matthew Kantor, father of three children aged two, four and six, says the clinic has been “essential” for his family.
“The service has given us doctors who work at SickKids and that has been extremely beneficial to us… [They] did a really good job of diagnosing just by video conference,” said Kantor, who lives in Toronto.
Kantor’s youngest son was diagnosed with Myhré syndromea degenerative disease that affects the connective tissue of the body.
“My son comes in and out of SickKids more than once a month due to his condition…we’ve seen very long wait times, we’ve seen overflowing queues and it’s really because the parents have no options.”
Eisman said eight or nine out of 10 patients KixCare sees virtually were able to get the right method of care and had a positive outcome.
“We’re not a service that was designed to overwhelm emergency departments or clinics and drain emergency department patients,” Eisman said.
Dr. Aviva Lowe, a Toronto pediatrician who consulted on KixCare, urges the provincial government to maintain access to virtual care for all children in the province.
“Paediatricians will no longer be able to offer virtual visits to patients with whom there is no pre-existing relationship or referral, because the reductions are so significant that it is not tenable to continue this type of care,” Lowe said.
“It’s very inequitable for people who already have a doctor or have been referred to a doctor to be able to continue to access virtual care in the way they deserve,” she said.
“While those who are already disadvantaged by not having their own doctor or not having timely access to their own doctor…will suffer the most from the cut.”
Virtual care “intended to supplement” in-person care: province
The Ministry of Health said it has reached an agreement with the Ontario Medical Association “on the implementation of the virtual care framework as part of the new medical services agreement.
“Throughout this process, the ministry has taken a patient-centered approach to ensure that Ontarians will continue to have access to the care they need, when they need it,” the ministry said in a statement. communicated.
“Virtual care is intended to complement in-person care, not replace it,” it read.
“This approach has resulted in significant changes for virtual care that ensures a positive patient-doctor relationship.”
Daniel Flanders, owner and executive director of the Kindercare Clinic in Toronto, said he understands the Ontario government is trying to stem the tide of virtual-only clinics and encourage doctors to provide comprehensive ongoing care to patients.
But the province runs the risk of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” Flanders said.
“The changes that are coming, which [are] really going to severely limit access to primary care, especially for patients in areas where they don’t have a primary care provider…there will be patients who will suffer.