At the same time, in other parts of the province, such as northeastern Ontario, people can't find a primary care physician because there just aren't enough practising in the area.
This situation is one of the reasons the province is moving planning for primary care under the purview of Ontario's 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), she said.
“We know from a health equity perspective there are certain groups of people who aren't getting access to the primary care they need,” Matthews said. "We need to put in place the right incentives to get the doctors where we need them. That's one thing the LHINs will have a role in achieving.”
The health minister made the remarks during a 30-minute-long “coffee break” teleconference hosted by the North East LHIN June 19.
Along with several health-care leaders from the northeast, she was invited to participate in the teleconference to speak about the province's action plan to transform health care, and how it applies to people living in the region.
Primary care providers also have a strong role to play in making sure patients don't fall through the cracks during transition periods such as going back home after a stay in the hospital.
“We need their voice to be part of the solution,” Matthews said. “I think what we need is a health-care system where primary care is the front door to the health-care system. That's where we go first.”
North East LHIN CEO Louise Paquette, who hosted the radio-style question-and-answer teleconference, said there's definitely a need for more co-ordination of primary care in the region.
The northeast is home to a wide variety of primary care services, including 27 family health teams, six nurse practitioner-led clinics, 538 primary care physicians, six community health centres and six Aboriginal health access centres, she said.
Paquette also asked Matthews what she means when she says she'd like to make the health-care system “obsessively patient-centred.”
“When I talk about the action plan being obsessively patient-centred, what I mean is that we have to always think about what does this mean for the patient, and are we doing the best we can from the perspective of the patient?” Matthews said.
“What we have now is a system that's provider-focused, and that is fragmented. We all hear about how difficult the system is to navigate for patients. We need to flip it around. We are all here to serve patients. We need to listen to what their needs are.”
At the same time as the province pays attention to patients' needs, it also needs to determine whether it's getting the best value it possibly can for the money it spends on health care.
“We're in a time when every dollar is a precious one,” she said. “We have to get the most out of every dollar we spend. If it's better value for money and it's better for patients, then it's up to us to figure out how to deliver that change.”
Matthews was also asked about the role of small hospitals as the health-care system is transformed.
Although the province is moving toward a funding model where hospitals will receive money based on how many patients they serve, that only applies to larger hospitals, she said. Smaller hospitals will continue to receive funding in the same manner they always have.
“We acknowledge that they serve a different function in small communities,” she said. “They will always be necessary, valuable and essential.”
Matthews congratulated the North East LHIN for its work in consulting with citizens as these changes are being made.
“When I see what you're doing in terms of getting out there and listening to people right across the LHIN, you are learning from patients what their expectations are,” she said.
“I have to say, when I see what you're doing, and then I imagine life before LHINs, we couldn't have done that kind of in-depth consultation about what are the problems, and more importantly, what are the solutions.
“There's no way we could have done that from downtown Toronto, no matter how hard we tried. We could never get that wealth of information from people.”
Posted by Arron Pickard