Trying to solve the ‘bottleneck’ of accepting new patients for Ontario family doctors

Click to play video: 'Hundreds line up for chance to get a doctor at Kingston clinic'
Hundreds line up for chance to get a doctor at Kingston clinic
RELATED: Hundreds of people lined up outside CDK Family Medicine and Walk-In Clinic on Sutherland Drive this week after the clinic announced four doctors would be accepting new patients. Global News' Fawwaz Muhammad-Yusuf has the latest. – Feb 28, 2024

A medical clinic looking to take on thousands of new patients is working to improve its rostering process after people camped out overnight and hundreds lined up, desperate to find a primary care physician.

But without systemic changes, officials at the Kingston, Ont., clinic say there will likely be more lineups.

“Rostering just means a doctor and a patient have mutually agreed that this patient is going to be accepted to a doctor and that formally at the provincial level — at the Ministry of Health level – it shows up that this patient is rostered with this family doctor,” explains Dr. Ziny Yen, who has been leading CDK Family Medicine and Walk-In Clinic’s patient recruitment efforts.

“But it comes with mandatory paperwork and mandatory tracking codes. For a patient to roster, there is paperwork.”

Ultimately CDK registered roughly 600 new patients over a pair of “rostering days” that saw hundreds of people line up for hours — many waiting overnight — for the chance to be matched up with one of the clinic’s doctors.

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Yen says before deciding to hold the public events, CDK had been working quietly over the last year to take on new patients.

But despite having space for at least 3,000 new patients, Yen says the clinic was only averaging around 80-90 patients a month due in part to the ministry’s paperwork and the fact there is no way to automatically move patients off lists of those looking for a doctor.

According to the OMA, which represents doctors in Ontario, 2.3 million Ontarians were without a family doctor as of the end of January, including an estimated 30,000 in Kingston.

Many of those prospective patients are registered with Health Care Connect (HCC), a provincial waiting list for family doctors, or can be found on referral lists from retired doctors offices.

But Yen said instead of simply being able to copy those names over to the rolls at CDK, each person needs to be contacted individually.

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“We would get lists of patients that would have to be tediously called to see if they allow consent to release their medical information and contact information to us and whether they were agreeable to sign on with us,” she said.

“I was shocked that there was no automated system of batch transferring. Everything is so digital these days… you would think it’s just moving names over, but for some reason it’s not.”

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On top of the administrative work required to go through the lists, Yen says new patients still need to come to the clinic in person to fill out and sign forms required by the Ministry of Health.

So, after months of slowly adding new patients through the lists and their walk-in clinic, CDK decided to try something different. They announced they were taking new patients and asked those who had pre-registered online to be rostered in person on designated days.

Despite only advertising the opportunity on the clinic’s website, Yen says CDK received 1,200 pre-registrations over the span of a weekend before a crowd of people lined up at their front door on the first rostering day.

After being overwhelmed on that first day — staff stayed four hours past the office’s closing time to continue rostering patients — the clinic changed their tactics for a second rostering day held later in the week, instead only accepting the first 100 people waiting in line.

Liberal MPP Ted Hsu, who represents Kingston and the Islands, says while he is glad to see so many able connect with a doctor over the two days, he thinks there should be an easier way.

“If the process were faster, then CDK would have been able to get all their new patients within a matter of days, or at least weeks, and they wouldn’t have had to do this in-person thing, which turned out to be rather chaotic and frustrating for many, many people,” he said.

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“To my mind the problem — the bottleneck — is how slow it is moving people from the waiting list to the physician’s rosters.”

After speaking with Yen about the issues CDK was facing, Hsu said he took those concerns to Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones.

“I asked the minister to look into this and she said she would,” he told Global News this week.

Global News reached out to the Ministry of Health asking specifically whether any changes were being considered to streamline the rostering process.

In an emailed statement, a government spokesperson instead noted that “a new physician can use a variety of sources to invite patients when setting up a practice” and provided a factsheet outlining current patient enrolment principles.

With projects like the planned Periwinkle Centre expected to bring primary care access to as many as 10,000 currently unattached patients in Kingston in the coming years, both Hsu and Yen say the rostering process needs to be better streamlined soon.

“The time to make sure this process works quickly and efficiently is right now,” Hsu said. “I’ll keep putting pressure on the minister, I’ll keep asking her.”

In the meantime Yen says with space for a few thousand more patients, CDK will hold further rostering days in the future. Details about when those days will be held as well as a link to pre-register can be found on the clinic’s website.

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The clinic is also still working with HCC to roster unattached patients from the list, and Hsu stressed the importance of signing up the for the list because it’s used by government to help determine a community’s need for primary physicians.

While she would rather not see people have to line up, Yen says unless the provincial rostering process changes, there just isn’t an easier way.

“I think our question is like, now that we do have doctors and we want a roster, can you help us? Can you help us with the rostering process? Simplify it,” she said.

“It should just be like, ‘hey, you want to sign up?’ … It’s done and you can now book an appointment.”

Click to play video: 'Family doctors becoming harder to find'
Family doctors becoming harder to find

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