Online pediatric clinic says it is being forced to close, leaving parents with fewer options
An online children’s health clinic that has connected 2,200 Ottawa area children with pediatricians since opening in 2021, says it is being forced to end its OHIP-based service because of changes to provincial funding.
The closure of KixCare.com will reduce the number of options for Ottawa area parents during an unprecedented wave of severe viral illness that has overburdened CHEO and other children’s health services.
Parents will now have to pay if they want to access the round-the-clock virtual pediatric health service.
KixCare founder Daniel Warner said the service has helped treat 20,000 children across the province since opening last year, keeping many of them out of walk-in clinics and emergency departments. It has offered a needed option during the current children’s healthcare crisis.
Warner said the timing of changes to the way the province pays for virtual care, during an unprecedented children’s health crisis, will put more strain on the already overtaxed pediatric health system.
“We are very disappointed that the Ford government’s cut to funding is forcing us to close this incredible service.”
The service will no longer be free beginning Dec. 1, because of changes to the way the province funds virtual visits. Provincial fees for virtual visits of the kind being offered by KixCare will be cut by 75 per cent, from $80 a visit to $20, making it untenable for pediatricians, said Warner.
Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones, who was in Ottawa Friday for an announcement about a new regional wait-times tracking system, defended the decision by the province to change the way it pays for virtual doctor’s visits.
She noted that the Ontario Medical Association approved the changes and said virtual healthcare has a place but it is important to ensure physicians are seeing patients in person.
But Warner noted that many of the families using the system don’t have access to a doctor and “don’t know where to turn for pediatric advice.”
Provincial officials have, in recent weeks, encouraged physicians to work harder and to see more patients in person. The Ontario Medical Association says family physicians are working harder than they did before the pandemic and the vast majority — 82 per cent for pediatricians and 68 per cent for family doctors — are seeing patients in person.
On Friday morning, Jones met with CHEO President and CEO Alex Munter and visited the hospital, which continues to be under pressure from the volume of sick children needing treatment.
She praised staff, managers and leaders of children’s hospitals, including CHEO.
“I am not in any way suggesting that these are easy times for pediatric and children’s hospitals in the province of Ontario.”
Jones gave no indication, though, that mask mandates are on the province’s agenda, or would be considered if the situation worsens.
“We have a lot more tools in our toolbox now … that includes vaccines and that includes making individual choices on when it is appropriate to wear your mask,” she said.
“We need to allow that personal choice because we know a lot more about what we are dealing with and we have a lot more options in terms of protection.”
She made the comments a day after a motion to bring back masks at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board narrowly failed to pass. Officials with CHEO have pleaded with people to wear masks to protect vulnerable children from the spread of viruses.
Jones was in Ottawa to announce a new software program linking hospitals across Eastern Ontario to help reduce surgical backlogs in the region.
The Centralized Regional Surgical Wait List Management HUB, as it is called, is built by a Kingston company, Novari Heath. It will be the first of its kind in Canada when it is up and running early next year.
Novari President and CEO John Sinclair described the system as a game changer for better understanding and reducing surgical backlogs.
The software will integrate with existing hospital IT systems to gain an overall picture of backlogs, speed up wait times and help identify bottlenecks at various stages of the surgical process.
Montfort, Queensway Carleton and Cornwall Community Hospital will be part of the initial phase will be part of the initial phase. Other hospitals, including The Ottawa Hospital, will join in coming weeks.
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