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The Ontario government is considering barring employers from demanding medical notes from employees for sick days in an effort to free up family physicians to focus more time on patient care. 

Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the government is looking at options to cut down on the amount of administrative work family physicians are currently required to do – including getting rid of fax machines by using more digital referral and consultation forms.

According to Jones, the Ministry of Health is looking to scrap sick notes by prohibiting employers from requiring them for employees to receive “job-protected sick leave.”

Sick notes would be replaced with attestations “that maintain accountability as employees request time off when they’re sick.”

Under Ontario’s current Employment Standards Act, employers are allowed to ask for a doctor’s note, or a medical note from a nurse practitioner or psychologist from employees who take sick days. 

Legislation to prohibit employers from asking for a sick note will be tabled by the Minister of Labour to amend Ontario’s current labour laws. 

Ontario NDP health critic France Gélinas voiced her support for the move.

“Sick notes have to go the way of the dinosaur — just ban them, they serve no purpose,” said Gélinas, according to Global News. “Let’s get rid of sick notes, they take up a lot of time from health care providers.”

However, physician and fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute Dr. Shawn Whatley doesn’t see how this measure will have a great effect on freeing up doctors to see other patients. 

As far as a doctor’s daily tasks go, Whatley, a former president of the Ontario Medical Association, said writing a sick note is among the easiest and least time consuming.

“When someone pops in for a sick note, it’s probably the easiest work you’ll do in your whole day. It’s like ‘yeah okay, here’s your note, see ya.’” Whatley told True North. 

“It doesn’t take a tonne of resources and when people are truly sick, they’re going to be there regardless, so the sick note doesn’t add anything on top of that.” 

Whatley wondered just what problem the Ontario government is trying to solve exactly – whether it’s about preventing people from going to the doctor when they don’t need or ensuring doctors aren’t billing OHIP for the notes, which are already supposed to be paid for by patients.

“Or is it a political problem?” asked Whatley. “Because it seems to be polling well with voters, so maybe that’s why the government has decided that’s what would solve the problem. So that’s the first question, ‘what is the problem exactly?”

Whatley said that once the problem is defined, the second question is how best do you solve that problem. 

“You don’t solve implementation or service problems by passing laws,” Whatley said. 

“Most other countries try to create incentives to change behaviour. If they have evidence showing that many people are blocking up a clinic schedule simply for sick notes and they all only take a few seconds to process then let’s have a discussion about that. But I’ve never seen that.” 

The Ontario Medical Association does believe it to be a time consuming process however, saying that administrative work amounts to roughly 19 hours per week of a physician’s time. 

“We estimate that four of these hours alone are spent on sick notes and government forms that doctors are asked to fill out every single day,” said OMA president Andrew Park, reported Global News. 

According to Park, the OMA wants to see sick notes “eliminated completely,” a change that Park feels is only practical because “physicians cannot diagnose illness after the fact.”