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Ontario launching AI program to help reduce doctor paperwork

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The Ontario government is launching an artificial intelligence program they say will help reduce the paperwork burden on family doctors while also removing a requirement that employees provide a doctor's note when off sick.

The announcement was made by Health Minister Sylvia Jones in Toronto on Wednesday.

“Our government is launching an innovative program called AI scribe for more than 150 primary care providers that safely uses artificial intelligence to automatically summarize or transcribe conversations with patients who consent into electronic medical notes,” she told reporters.

Officials noted that patient information will continue to be protected under the Personal Health Information Protection Act. They cite research that suggests AI scribes reduced the time doctors spent on after-hours documentation by up to 50 per cent.

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) says that family doctors spend about 19 hours a week on administrative tasks. This includes about four hours writing notes or completing forms for patients.

With 2.3 million Ontarians without a family doctor, OMA President Andrew Park says that’s “clearly inappropriate and must be fixed.”

“Doctors are spending almost as much of their time in front of their computers as they are in front of patients,” Park said.

Park said that paperwork keeps physicians from seeing more patients as well as achieving a work-life balance. He welcomed the funding for AI scribes and said he looks forward to seeing the results of the pilot program.

Jones said there is a committee reviewing ways to further reduce the paperwork burden.

The province is also replacing the use of fax machines, further digitizing referral and consultation forms, and encouraging the use of digital tools to make it more convenient to share forms. Officials say they hope all of these efforts will save doctor's about 95,000 hours of administrative tasks per year.

Fewer sick notes

The government also announced it would prohibit a requirement for employers that mandates a doctor’s note be presented when a worker takes “job-protected sick leave.”

Ontario residents are entitled to at least three mandated sick days.

Jones added that employers who require reasonable evidence of an illness should accept attestations or declarations rather than a written note.

“Over time we would like to see sick notes eliminated entirely” Park said at the news conference. “This is practical as physicians can’t diagnose illness after the fact and it saves workers both time and money.”

The health minister did not say why sick notes weren’t banned.

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