Nova Scotia

Doctors Nova Scotia says sick notes are waste of time for minor illnesses

Physicians fed up with writing sick notes for employers are turning to a 12-year-old Doctors Nova Scotia form letter that bills the employer for the time it took to write the note and requests they change their policy on sick notes.

Sick notes are 'a poor use of physicians' time' and 'a poor use of health-care dollars,' says official

One problem with requiring sick notes, says Dr. Gary Ernest, is employees showing up to work sick or showing up to a clinic where there are other people who are sick and spreading germs around. (Getty Images)

Physicians fed up with writing sick notes for employers are turning to a 12-year-old Doctors Nova Scotia form letter that bills the employer for the time it took to write the note and requests they change their policy on sick notes.

Dr. Gary Ernest, the president of Doctors Nova Scotia, said employers requiring employees to get sick notes for minor illnesses has been a problem for a long time.

The template was created by Doctors Nova Scotia in 2007, but recently it has has been gaining traction online and on social media by doctors who are sick of writing sick notes. The form has been downloaded more than 900 times in the past year.

Anyone can download the template, so Doctors Nova Scotia said the number of downloads is likely a combination of physicians and members of the public.

Ernest, who is also a longtime family physician in Liverpool, N.S., said sick notes create several problems.

A template of a sick note from Doctors Nova Scotia. (CBC)

"It's not necessarily easy to get in to see a family physician if you have a family physician," he said. "Their offices are busy and for someone calling on the same day, it's not necessarily an easy thing to get fit in for a sick note.

"And for people who can't get in or don't have family physicians, that means they're trying to get sick notes in walk-in clinics from doctors they don't know.

Dr. Gary Ernest is the president of Doctors Nova Scotia and a family physician in Liverpool, N.S. (Submitted by Doctors Nova Scotia)

"Or even taking it to a worse level, sitting around for many hours in an emergency department just to get a sick note."

Ernest said there shouldn't be a requirement for a sick note if it's for a minor illness. He said there should be an "element of trust" in office culture.

Another problem with requiring sick notes, Ernest said, is employees showing up to work sick or showing up to a clinic where there are other people who are sick and spreading germs around.

"This is a poor use of physicians' time, it doesn't require a physician's expertise, it's a poor use of health-care dollars," he said.

Ernest said an employee showing up to a doctor's office just to get a sick note can take away the opportunity for somebody with a medically valid reason to see a physician.

"It decreases access and, as we all know, access to primary-care physicians, primary-care providers at this point, especially primary-care physicians, is a big problem," he said.

Ernest said it's also not right that employees have to foot the bill for a doctor's note, which can cost around $30.

It's unclear how many employers have paid the fee on the Doctors Nova Scotia form letter, Ernest said.

The Canadian Medical Association has also spoken out against doctor sick notes.

In November, the association urged the Ontario government not to reinstate sick notes for short-term illnesses. The previous government had instituted a policy that prohibited employers from requiring a doctor's note for "personal emergency leave," which includes personal illness or injury.

With files from Elizabeth Chiu

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