It all started with the loss of family doctors. Walk-In clinics and TeleHealth clinics appeared to fill the void. Now, these "substitute" clinics are revealing their inability or unwillingness to provide key medical services for un-rostered patients. This is a disgrace. Something needs to change.
Ontario residents who are fortunate enough to be rostered to a family doctor have easy access to receive a prescription and MOHLTC (Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care) Provincial funding for hearing aids, and other medical devices, via a doctor’s signature on an Assistive Devices Program (ADP) form. There are a growing number of people who do not have a family doctor. Many of these are seniors.
These folks, through no fault of their own, have been abandoned to an exhausting process of visiting multiple Walk-In and TeleHealth clinics, only to be continually denied a simple signature on their ADP form or a prescription for medical devices. They are shut out from a level of care that those of us fortunate enough to have a GP take for granted.
Imagine, a 90-year old with severe hearing loss, among other health issues, whose family doctor has retired. She needs an ADP form signed in order to purchase hearing aids. After pursuing and being turned away from all other options, she must finally visit the emergency room as a last resort, exposing herself to others in the waiting room with all manner of undisclosed ailments to which she'll be exposed. All this, simply to obtain the signature she needs to purchase hearing aids.
Embarrassed (and possibly frightened), she sits longer than all the others as a “non-emergency” patient in the busy emergency room, until a harried doctor impatiently gives her the signature she needs - or not. This is the reality for many residents of smaller cities and communities in Ontario.
Residents of Ontario with hearing loss require a prescription to be fit with hearing aids and a doctor's signature to receive funding from the MOHLTC Assistive Devices Program (ADP) of up to $500 per hearing device - a great benefit for Ontarians. For many seniors, that funding makes the difference between being able to afford hearing aids or not.
Since the beginning of 2023, we have noticed a growing number of new clients struggle to get access to hearing aid prescriptions and government funding due to being turned away from substitutions for the family doctor. These are clients who have hearing loss, know they need hearing aids, and are willing and able to pay for them. Yet, try as they might, they cannot have them.
If a prescription for hearing aids can no longer be obtained, it is not only the funding that is lost. Hearing Professionals in Ontario are not permitted to fit hearing aids on a patient who has not obtained a prescription. That means that those in need cannot purchase hearing aids, at any price.
What presently exists is an unjust and preventable two-tiered health care system. This is certainly a black mark on our purported "universal” healthcare system.
In recent years, the number of TeleHealth and Walk-In clinics have increased significantly. The public have been lead to believe that these new clinics provide an adequate substitute for the Family Physician. Ontarians are finding out that this is not the case, when it comes to access to medical devices. In certain areas, many of these clinics now refuse to sign prescription forms for medical devices for a variety of reasons or simply state that they “don’t do paperwork.”
If the Ministry of Health for Ontario, which offers subsidies for hearing aids and regulates the sale of these devices, will not act now to ensure that all medical clinics sign prescriptions for medical devices for un-rostered patients, they are supporting and, indeed, creating a two-tiered health care system.
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