The OAC Board of Directors welcomes this opportunity to reflect on the 2020-21 membership year and outline plans for the Association’s renewal and growth in 2021-22.
The past year, of course, was defined by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic occurring across the globe and, more directly, within our province. Its impact on cardiac patient access to hospital-based procedures and community-based ambulatory services in Ontario is indisputable. While it is true that Ontario’s health care system remained safe and accessible for patients experiencing urgent and emergent heart health issues, the delivery of these services, and of non-emergent cardiac patient care, changed dramatically over the past 12 months.
Ontario’s cardiologists were forced to adjust their clinical practices. This included the adoption of virtual consultations and use of virtual fee codes; procurement of personal protective equipment to protect patients and staff when providing essential, in-person care; re-configuration of patient flow in accordance to physical distancing protocols; and, as per Ontario government directives, a significant reduction in the provision of many procedures and diagnostic testing services.
As COVID-19 vaccination rates in Ontario rise, a path back to normality can be charted; however, it is clear that a plan for addressing lengthy waiting lists for cardiac procedures and diagnostic testing services, just one aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic’s legacy in Ontario, must be developed and implemented.
Under these challenging pandemic circumstances, the OMA and Ministry of Health commenced negotiations over a new physician services agreement (PSA). Cardiologists will remember the outcome of the 2017-21 PSA, which not only held the speciality’s professional and technical fees in-check, it instituted an unfair remuneration imbalance among specialist physicians providing routine, follow-up care to cardiac patients. This must never be permitted to happen again.
Furthermore, Ontario’s echocardiography standards were updated in April 2021 and the echocardiography quality improvement (EQI) program transitioned to a non-governmental organization, which initiated a re-certification process under a new set of rules and obligations. It was a stark adjustment for those among the nearly 500 currently accredited community-based facilities that will continue to play out in the coming months.
Toward the end of the year, the OAC launched a group purchasing program to help members providing contrast echocardiography services obtain supplies at reduced prices. This procurement program will serve as a template going forward for other products, supplies and services critical to our members’ clinical practices.
Our organization also suffered the loss of long-time OAC member and president (2013-2021) Dr. James (Jim) Swan. Jim left his mark on the Association, building and guiding its activities over the past eight years. He was a force to be reckoned with at the OMA, the Ontario government and among stakeholders on the provincial health care landscape. He spoke up for Ontario’s cardiologists and their patients. He did so using a combination of unmatched passion, authenticity and professionalism achieving impressive results on behalf of the profession. We will all miss his leadership, collegiality, and genuine kindness.
The OAC recognizes and understands the challenges facing our members. We are committed to helping navigate this shared journey through what are and remain unprecedented times. Our number one priority is serving as the voice of our members and advocating on your behalf whether you work in an academic health sciences centre, a community hospital, an outpatient ambulatory clinic, or in solo practice.
As a voluntary professional organization, separate and distinct from the OMA, the OAC works tirelessly to shape the direction of cardiologist-led patient care in the province through strong advocacy, professional leadership, and partnerships with standards development and accreditation organizations. Our mission is to make Ontario the best place to practice cardiology and receive high quality cardiac patient care.
As we look ahead to 2021-22, the OAC will focus its efforts on organization renewal, growth, and advocacy initiatives that include the following:
- Recruit new members to serve on the OAC Board of Directors to fill current vacancies and ensure wide representation of the specialty.
- Increase individual and cardiology group members to expand the Association’s reach as the voice of cardiology in Ontario.
- Shape the Ministry’s budget process and the OMA-Ministry of Health negotiations to ensure sufficient funding is allocated to reduce cardiac patient waitlists and ensure adequate remuneration for cardiologist-led care.
- Maintain funding support for virtual consultations until in-person patient care can fully resume safely and extend the repayment period of the Ministry’s COVID-19 advance payment program loan.
- Protect the interests of echocardiography facilities and the integrity of the EQI program.
- Expand the OAC’s group purchasing program to include more products and supplies critical to community-based cardiology practices.
- Support the unique needs of specialists through our ongoing involvement in the Ontario Specialists Association.
The OAC is small compared to many health care professional organizations but, for more than 25 years, our Association has maintained a strong presence on the Ontario health care landscape. Our efforts on behalf of patients and members have helped shape provincial funding, policy and regulatory decisions. To continue having this kind of impact, our membership needs to be strong and involved.
The OAC’s Board of Directors would like to thank all OAC members for the confidence that they have bestowed upon it during these troubled times in Ontario. We look forward to working on their behalf in the coming weeks and months to create the conditions necessary for them to continue to practice effectively and improve the lives of patients with heart disease.