Province to prohibit sick notes for employees

Employees may be required to attest to illness – but not with a doctor's note

Province to prohibit sick notes for employees

Ontario will prohibit employers from requiring sick notes in an effort to reduce paperwork for physicians, Health Minister Sylvia Jones announced Wednesday.

The new rules will remove the need for employees to provide a doctors note if they want to use part or all of their three days of provincially mandated annual sick leave. Requiring a sick note is currently allowed under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act.

Instead of a sick note, employees will be required to provide attestations “that maintain accountability as employees request time off when they’re sick,” Jones said. These attestations could include a form signed by the employee or a receipt for over-the-counter medication.

The government’s change is intended to give physicians more time for direct patient care and comes as part of new legislation tabled by the minister of labour in coming weeks, says the CBC.

According to the Ontario Medical Association, unnecessary paperwork takes up roughly 19 hours of a physician’s time each week, which reduces the number of patients a physician can see.

“We know that every week, family physicians alone are spending about 40 per cent of their time on administrative tasks such as completing forms that require a doctor’s signature,” said Dr. Andrew Park, OMA President. “This time would be better spent on patient care and improving the overall work-life balance of our physicians.”

Reducing paperwork with no sick notes

The government will implement initiatives aimed at “putting patients over paperwork,” which will free up to 95,000 hours annually for physicians, according to the government.

The initiatives include:

  • “Axe the fax” to gradually replace fax machines to speed up diagnosis, referrals and treatments while improving the privacy of patient’s health information.
  • Expanding eServices to digitize referral and consultation forms so they can be shared electronically in a timely manner to obtain specialist advice, often eliminating the need for an in-person specialist visit.
  • Improving the eForms platform to use more digital tools that make it convenient for providers to autofill and share forms.
  • Working with the Ontario Medical Association to streamline and simplify 12 key government medical forms, as well as digitizing and integrating more forms into electronic medical records.
  • Accelerating the expansion of the centralized waitlist program for surgical and diagnostic services that will take the guesswork out of the referral process and provide faster access to care for patients.

Integrating AI into doctor’s work

Ontario will also expand a pilot program that will integrate artificial intelligence into doctors’ offices by using technology to transcribe and summarize patient visits.

An AI scribe, with a patient’s consent, automatically summarizes or transcribes conversations between a doctor and a patient, which could help physicians spend more time with patients and less time on paperwork.

Around 150 primary care clinics will participate in the project, which is being administered and evaluated by OntarioMD, a subsidiary of the Ontario Medical Association.

“OntarioMD is very encouraged by today’s announcement that will see AI scribe technology piloted with more than 150 primary care providers,” said Robert Fox, OntarioMD CEO. “AI technology has the potential to be an important part of a sustainable health-care system in Ontario and this step to review the clinical, legal and privacy implications is critical. We are proud to be leading the work and grateful to the physicians who are taking part in the pilot.”

But Liberal MPP Adil Shamji, who has also worked as an emergency room doctor, told reporters that "the devil is in the details and the execution," and AI systems would need to be carefully implemented, according to the CBC.

"If this proves to be an avenue that we actually decide to pursue beyond a pilot project, there will need to be a series of checks and balances to make sure that there is accuracy, to make sure that patient confidentiality is preserved," he said.

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