A local pharmacist says funding changes made by the provincial government will be leaving the Kenora community with one less avenue to healthcare by next month.

Pharmacy Manager and Owner of the Medicine Shoppe, Lorna Smith, says as of September 1, the Good Doctors Clinic will be closing its doors – which will ultimately leave some residents with a multiple-month gap between their prescriptions.

“Unfortunately, due to the government’s decision to change funding to telemedicine, the telemedicine walk-in clinic will be closing on September 1 at the Medicine Shoppe. I hope that some of these patients will be able to find a new physician to help assist them with their healthcare,” explains Smith.

The Good Doctors Clinic is a virtual Telemedicine clinic housed within the Medicine Shoppe that served individuals and tourists who did not have access to a primary care physician in the area, and was introduced in 2018 to help alleviate pressures on the local healthcare system.

In a prepared response, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care says they are unable to speak to the circumstances that led to the closure of this clinic, as physicians are independent contractors who make their own decisions about the services they provide.

But, the Ministry goes on to explain that through Ontario’s 2021-2024 Physician Services Agreement, OHIP-insured virtual-care services had temporary virtual-care fee codes that were priced at equivalent rates to in-person services during the COVID-19 pandemic, but those are ending by next month. 

That means through the returning pay structure that was in effect prior to COVID-19, the province will resume paying physicians less per patient for virtual-care visits, compared to in-person appointments.

“Although virtual care services provided outside of pre-existing relationships will remain covered by OHIP, the amount physicians are paid for these services will be less to better reflect the different levels of assessment that can be accomplished in each scenario,” wrote the Ministry.

Now, due to the clinic’s closure, Smith is warning the community of the roughly four-month window where residents without access to a primary care physician will not have access to any service to prescribe them with a new prescription.

Smith notes by January 1, 2023, Ontario hopes to approve an Expanded Scope of Practice for Minor Ailment Prescribing for pharmacists to help fill any gaps created by the funding model changes, but she says those regulations need to be introduced as soon as possible.

“I’m really asking the government to expedite the Pharmacist’s Expanded Scope of Practice for Minor Ailment Prescribing – not waiting until January, but doing it sooner,” adds Smith.

Ontario’s proposed new regulations for pharmacists would allow them to prescribe medications for 12 minor ailments, but residents would require a prescription from their Ontario physician to receive any other type of medication.

The Ministry notes Ontarians continue to have access to Health Connect Ontario, previously known as TeleHealth, a toll-free, 24/7 telephone service where patients can access medical advice from a Registered Nurse, as opposed to a physician.