Help is on the way for 500,000 Ontario residents without a family physician, who have generally been forced to go to walk-in clinics or emergency rooms when they need medical attention.

Starting next month, a new hotline will help match people with a doctor in their area willing to take on new patients, the Toronto Star has learned.

The government will institute a special 1-800 number, where a Telehealth Ontario staffer will take down a health history and pass it on to a nurse who will help find a family doctor.

“This is a made-in-Ontario solution,” Health Minister David Caplan said of the program to be launched in February.

“We will be the first jurisdiction, I am aware of, that is doing this.”

Still, critics point out that the program, called Health Care Connect, will not deal with the core problem: A shortage of doctors.

It is part of a provincial government and Ontario Medical Association commitment to find family doctors for 500,000 people. It’s estimated 400,000 to a million Ontarians do not have a family doctor.

The health ministry and the OMA, the body representing nearly 33,000 physicians, made the commitment to find Ontarians family doctors when they signed their last contract in 2008.

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