Ontarians dropped by family doctors say they should’ve at least been notified

When Tarek Emara called his family doctor north of Toronto hoping to book an appointment three weeks ago, he didn’t expect to be told he was no longer a patient at the clinic.

“The receptionist … answers the call and says, ‘Oh, we haven’t seen you since 2016, and as a result, we dropped you from your list and you’re no longer at this clinic,'” Emara, who lives in Markham, Ont., told CBC Toronto.

“It’s obviously very disappointing, I shouldn’t be penalized for keeping healthy.”

Emara is now among the more than two million people without a family doctor in Ontario, according to a report released last month. In 2020, 1.8 million Ontarians reported not having a family physician, a number that has ballooned to 2.2 million in 2022, according to data from Inspire-PHC, a health-care research group. Long-established research has found people without a regular family physician are more reliable in emergency rooms and are more likely to end up hospitalized.

Last month, Emara called Health Connect Ontario, formerly Telehealth Ontario, after experiencing vertigo. He said he was told to see a doctor within four hours and went to an urgent care clinic.

Emara said the physician at that clinic told him he should let his family doctor know what happened. That’s when he called the Richmond Hill, Ont. clinic only to find out he was removed from their patient list.

Emara said he should have been “at the very least” notified that his family physician would be taking him off of the clinic’s patient list. Now, the clinic is not accepting any new patients and he is looking for a new family doctor, he said.

“This shouldn’t be happening, that you get dropped unilaterally unless you do something wrong.”

Emara said he visited a private clinic once a year that was covered by his work insurance but otherwise had no reason to visit his family doctor since 2016.

Physicians required to reach out to patients

According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), if a patient is absent from the practice for an extended period of time, physicians are first required to “make a good-faith effort” to determine whether the patient would prefer to maintain the relationship.

“In doing so, physicians must, at minimum, send a letter of inquiry to the patient’s last known address,” the college’s website reads.

“Where no response is received, or the patient indicates that care has been sought elsewhere, physicians may formally remove the patient from the practice.

Cedric Hong in an undated photo taken outdoors in Scarborough.
Two years ago, Cedric Hong was dropped by a family doctor he had been going to for nearly 20 years. (Submitted by Cedric Hong)

Almost two years ago, Cedric Hong found himself in the same situation.

Hong, who lives in Scarborough, called his family doctor, who he’d been seeing for nearly 20 years, hoping to get a checkup. He was told the clinic removes patients who do not visit for more than a year, a policy he says was not aware of.

“I [was] very confused because this is my family doctor. I’ve been going to them … ever since I was born,” Hong said.

“It’s very frustrating. At the moment I [thought] I’ll just find another doctor… and then I realize how hard it was to find another doctor.”

Is the pandemic partly to blame?

Since then, he said, had no luck finding a family doctor. He said he also used Health Care Connect, a program that refers to Ontarians who don’t have a physician to a family health-care provider who may be accepted as new patients — but he’s had no luck.

“A few weeks ago, I [also] spent a good two to four hours just calling random clinics, leaving messages only to end up with nothing.”

Many experts blame the spike in the number of Ontarians without a family doctor on the pandemic, which spurred hundreds of family doctors to stop practicingThey warn that number is poised with many aging baby-boomer doctors planning to retire.

Meanwhile, Emara said his struggle to find a family doctor continues.

“There are no clinics around me that accept new patients so I’m not sure where to go from here.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top