Post-COVID medical backlog will prompt health-care changes

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The COVID-19 pandemic has created a massive backlog of medical procedures in Ontario.

On Wednesday, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) announced that 15.9 million medical services — about one per person in the province — had been put off because of COVID; MRI and CT scans topped the list, with knee and hip surgeries, cataract surgery and coronary artery bypass grafts close behind.

People have also delayed pap smears, mammograms and colon cancer screening, not to mention the routine doctor’s office checks for blood pressure or diabetes.

“So the backlog is not confined to the operating room,” said OMA president Dr. Adam Kassam.

And it means doctors are seeing patients who are sicker — and who will need more complex care.

A recent report by the province’s Financial Accountability Office shows it will take more than three years and $1.3 billion to clear the backlog of surgeries and diagnostic procedures. Ontario’s Science Table said in April that almost a quarter-million Ontarians were waiting for surgery.

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The aftermath in terms of these millions of medical procedures is probably just the tip of the iceberg, an expression used by all three doctors who joined Kassam on Wednesday to discuss how the health-care system can improve and move forward.

“It’s not just the enormity of the backlog, but also its complexity,” said cardiologist Dr. Harindra Wijeysundera.

“There are no quick and easy solutions. This will be a marathon, not a sprint.”

Family physician Dr. Sohal Goyal said there has been a 400% increase in mental health visits.

“The effects of this will be felt for years. Patients are coming in for one thing and you realize they have anxiety or depression because of COVID,” said Goyal.

“We must catch up on preventative work and on mental health issues.”

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Dermatologist Dr. Sandra Landolt spoke of “the backlog we don’t even know about yet,” and listed the thousands of melanomas and squamous cell carcinomas that have likely gone undiagnosed.

Time, effort and change are all required to move this mountain of medical procedures.

It’s going to depend upon integration among all health partners.

And innovative solutions must be sought out, particularly to serve marginalized communities. The pop-up clinics that brought COVID vaccines to people — rather than expecting people to get to clinics — was offered as an example of something that worked well.

Load sharing, which entails moving patients from overly busy hospitals to hospitals where they’ll see quicker treatment, was something else that helped during the pandemic, and may be pursued further in future.

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Despite the dire situation the province now faces, all the doctors agreed that this must be regarded as an opportunity to make important changes.

Inequities in the system must be addressed.

Health-care resources are stretched — with RNs leaving the profession and doctors taking early retirement because of COVID — and that too must be addressed.

And patients must also do their part.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

All Ontarians are invited to take part in the OMA’s betterhealthcare.ca — an online survey that invites patient input into changing Ontario’s health care for the better.

And, according to Dr. Goyal, there are a couple of other important things people can do.

  1. Vials labelled

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  2. A healthcare worker shows a vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a parking lot of an exhibition centre turned into a vaccination centre, in Bogota, Colombia June 8, 2021.

    U.S. to donate 500 million Pfizer vaccine doses globally: Report

  3. A woman has her eyes checked at an optometrist's office in this file photo.

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One is to go back to your doctor and get the check-up you’ve been putting off.

The other is to get fully vaccinated.

“We need everyone to get vaccinated. It will be crucial to this recovery time,” said Goyal.

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