No evidence patients enrolled in ER for virtual family doctor visits: OMA study Pipa News

No evidence patients enrolled in ER for virtual family doctor visits: OMA study

A study led by researchers from the Ontario Medical Association found that patients did not substitute hospital emergency rooms for virtual visits with their family doctor in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers say the peer-reviewed study, published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, highlights recent concerns over quality-of-care concerns and how virtual service could reduce ER burdens.

The study said there was no evidence that patients were turning to emergency departments instead of the pivot to virtual visits by family doctors at the start of the pandemic.

Researchers analyzed data from nearly 8,000 Ontario doctors practicing in family health groups and family health organizations with rostered patients.

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OMA president Rose Zacharias says the shift to virtual primary care at the start of the pandemic prompted questions about whether the move has put additional strain on emergency departments.

She says the study shows no link.

“We know patients are re-engaging with the health care system after a brief pause due to the pandemic. He looks very ill. We also know that we are dealing with staff shortages and fatigue among our health care teams. We know that more than one million people in Ontario don’t have a family doctor and have nowhere else to go other than an emergency department,” she said.

“But it clearly shows that a belief that doctors providing virtual care are increasing emergency department visits would be incorrect.”

Another Ontario study, published earlier this month but widely reported to be in the preprint stage, found virtual walk-in patients more likely to go to the emergency department within 30 days because of a lack of continuity of care. The chances were doubly so.

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The study published Monday, however, focused on primary care physicians who have patient-physician relationships offering one-time appointments rather than virtual walk-in clinics.

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While researchers have suggested that virtual walk-in clinics may add to rather than relieve stress on the system, Zakaria says that virtual care offered by a physician with an established patient has many benefits.

He cited appointments to refill prescriptions, review lab results and mental health counseling as examples.

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press

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