Nfld. & Labrador

Physician says MDS 'drowning in paperwork' over sick notes

Newfoundland and Labrador workers who have been off sick with a cold for a few days may find themselves stuck in a fight between doctors and employers.

N.L. workers use some of the highest number of sick days in Canada: employers' council

Dr. Paul Bonisteel says the amount of paperwork for physicians continues to grow, with some doctors spending more than a quarter of their time filling out forms. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador workers who have been off sick with a cold for a few days may find themselves stuck in a fight between doctors and employers.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association says employers are increasingly asking workers to get medical notes when they're sick for periods under five days. 

In a letter to members, NLMA president Yordan Karaivanov said doctors should know they are under no obligation to provide a note - especially when a patient asks for one after their condition has improved, and they need to meet an employer's demand. 

"We are advising physicians that they not write short-term medical certificates when they have not assessed the patient during the illness," Karaivanov said in the letter. 

"In many cases, patients are presenting in physicians’ offices after they have returned to work fully recovered, and the medical certificate is completed based on information provided by the patient and not an assessment by the physician." 

The NLMA said such requests put demands on the health-care system that could be used dealing with people who are ill. 

As well, the association wants employers to ask for sick notes only after five days of illness. 

The NLMA is providing its members with a template form that they can use for issuing sick notes. The form is voluntary. 

'Drowning in paperwork'

Dr. Paul Bonisteel said doctors want to practice medicine — not fill out paperwork.

"This is a health resources issue. You know it's hard enough to get to see your doctor anyway. You don't want your doctor to say, 'Oh, I'm sorry I can't see you, I have five forms to fill out,'" said Bonisteel. 

Bonisteel said sick notes are for sick people, and shouldn't be used just to appease employers or to satisfy terms of an union agreement.

He said some doctors can spend more than a quarter of their time filling out forms, time they don't have to see patients

"Doctors are swimming, indeed drowning, in paperwork."

Council pleased with policy change

The Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council says businesses are going to continue to rely on doctors to provide sick notes.

Public relations manager Jaclyn Sullivan said they're pleased that the NLMA has opted for a policy change to prevent people from getting a note after they're already better.

Sullivan said the council hopes doctors will ignore the guideline that suggests not writing notes for illnesses shorter than five days.

"We're hopeful that physicians will continue to cooperate and work with those employers where they do need that information, so they can manage absenteeism effectively," she said.

The council points out workers in this province use some of the highest number of sick days in the country, with the average worker taking almost nine a year.


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