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Ontario to do away with sick note requirement for short absences

April 25, 2024
The Canadian Press

Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones speaks with media at Queen’s Park in Toronto, on Wednesday, September 14, 2022. Jones says the province is taking steps to ease the administrative burden on doctors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Ontario will do away with sick note requirements for short absences as part of a larger effort to ease the administrative burden on doctors, the province’s health minister said Wednesday.

The province will soon introduce legislation that, if passed, will no longer allow employers to require a sick note from a doctor for the provincially protected three days of sick leave workers are entitled to.

Employers will retain the right to require another form of evidence from an employee such as an attestation or a receipt for over-the-counter medication, the labour minister’s office said.

“These changes are designed to reduce the paperwork burden for sick workers and health-care professionals, while maintaining accountability in the workplace,” said Zoë Knowles, a spokeswoman for David Piccini.


The province is also expanding a pilot program that uses artificial intelligence to summarize or transcribe conversations with patients to more than 150 primary care providers, said Health Minister Sylvia Jones.

“Together these changes put patients before paperwork, allowing clinicians to spend more time with their patients, resulting in a more connected and convenient patient care experience,” she said.

A patient must give consent to doctors to use the AI-based transcription program, Jones said, adding that the early returns on the so-called “AI scribe” program are promising.

“Anecdotally, we are hearing that patients really appreciate it and clinicians are finding that they spend more time face to face with their patients instead of looking at a computer screen,” Jones said.

The province will study the issue to determine its effect on the administrative burden for physicians.

“AI is a new frontier with great potential to reduce administrative burden, but we need to test this technology,” said Ontario Medical Association president Andrew Park.

Doctors welcome the government initiatives, Park said.

Physicians spend nearly as much time in front of a computer as they do with patients, he said. The paperwork burden is unnecessary and leads to an average of an “alarming 19 hours a week of physicians’ time,” he said.

“It keeps them from patient visits or a healthy work-life balance, or in most cases, both,” he said.

OntarioMD, a subsidiary of the OMA, will run the transcription program, Jones said.

Doctors and the province are also working together to streamline and simplify 12 government medical forms.

The sick note policy announced Wednesday is a reversal for the Doug Ford government.

The previous Kathleen Wynne Liberal government scrapped sick note requirements under the Employment Standards Act.

The Progressive Conservatives then repealed that provision with Bill 47 in 2018, which allowed employers “to require evidence of entitlement to the leave that is reasonable in the circumstances.”

Ridding sick note requirements for short absences is a no brainer, said Adil Shamji, a Liberal legislator and an emergency room doctor.

I think it’s very reasonable, in fact appropriate, not to be going in to see a family doctor or primary care practitioner just to get documentation,” Shamji said.

More focus should be placed on the “onerous” burden of filling short-term disability forms, Shamji said.

But Shamji cautioned against artificial intelligence becoming a panacea for note taking.

“A pilot project is not going to solve the crisis that we face,” he said.

The Ontario College of Family Physicians says 2.3 million Ontarians do not have a primary care physician and that number is expected to double in two years.

Administrative burden is among a number of issues that are driving doctors away, several medical organizations have said.

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