Having children is a part of life. It's trite to say that it's never easy for any parent, but our perspective is that it's particularly difficult to manage for family physicians in the community for a number of reasons.
With this in mind, our clinic has adopted a policy to strictly prohibit patients from switching family doctors within Magenta Health due to his or her physician's parental leave. While we completely understand why patients oftentimes make this request, as a clinic, we've decided to adopt policies that support the practical need for family physicians, just like any other individual, to balance their working and personal lives. We can't fix everything, but we can do our part by adopting family-friendly policies.
To patients whom this policy affects, we do understand why this can be frustrating as parental leaves can be seen to affect the continuity of care that you receive. Nevertheless, we trust the considerations discussed below helps convey our reasoning for why, on balance, we feel that it is important for us to adopt this policy.
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Timing is a first consideration. Family doctors go through an average of 10 - 12 years of post secondary education before being considered fully qualified family doctors. Tack on a few years of working at different clinics to gain clinical experience and exposure, or doing specialized training, and the average family doctor is in his or her early 30s when starting a long-term practice. This is already well past the average age of parenthood in Canada making parental leave during their career a difficult to avoid reality.
Finances are another consideration as most primary physicians are, for all intents and purposes, independent contractors. What this means is that while there's some limited financial support from the government and the physician-funded Ontario Medical Association, for the most part, family doctors are unpaid while on parental leave. Moreover, since family doctors are professionally obligated to supply adequate coverage while on extended leave, family doctors frequently pay out of pocket to ensure patients have continued timely access to a family physician.
The nature of this coverage is also important. Notably, there is no government agency or organization that takes responsibility for this process. Instead, family physicians work hard to individually recruit, interview, select, hire, and train his or her replacement. This is done to ensure continuity of care for patients and to make sure appropriate & high quality care is available during the whole of his or her leave.
Recognizing that family physicians are service providers is a further consideration. Even though nearly all care provided is covered by OHIP, physicians are still professionals delivering a service. To thus draw an analogy to ordinary employment, we believe physicians can reasonably expect that their means of earning a living is secure and not at risk due to parental leave. For us, facilitating a switch from physicians on leave to other physicians within the clinic stands in direct conflict with this expectation.
Lastly, we find it important to recognize that our policy does not prevent any individual from having reasonable access to a health care provider of his or her choice. As a clinic located in Toronto Central, we are fortunate to be in an area with the highest density of health care providers in Ontario. While our sincere hope is that this policy does not motivate patients to seek care elsewhere, there are practical options should that not be the case.
It's with all of the above in mind that our clinic has adopted a policy to strictly prohibit patients from switching family doctors within Magenta Health due to his or her physician's parental leave. As mentioned above, we do understand why this can be frustrating for patients, but we trust this discussion of various considerations helps convey our reasoning for why, on balance, we feel that it is important for us to adopt this strict policy.