Doctor wonders why OHIP won’t cover yoga, Pilates treatments

In 2007, Dr. Raza Awan realized he had a severe neck injury. Fifteen years of work at a computer screen studying to become a doctor, as well as playing such sports as tennis had done the damage.

He tried some traditional forms of therapy, including physiotherapy, massage, chiropractic treatment and acupuncture. But none of them helped.

“I found that Pilates helped my lower back pain,” he said. “(Then) I started going to yoga classes … to explore what yoga could do.”

It’s a bit ironic since Dr. Awan is a sports medicine physician and medical director of Synergy Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation on Wallace Avenue in Toronto.

“I knew (Pilates and yoga) were both focused on mind and body connections,” he said. “I found … if I did yoga a few times per week the pain would be much improved on a regular basis.”

Awan started prescribing yoga to his patients eight years ago. He and his team at Synergy incorporated a yoga and Pilates studio into their sports medicine clinic. They run rehabilitation protocols that incorporate yoga and Pilates. They wonder why the government does not fund them under OHIP.

David Jensen, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said that yoga therapy is not insured under the Health Insurance Act (HIA).

“Physicians may recommend a variety of physical activities for their patients,” he said, “but this does not make that activity ‘prescribed’ in the sense that a patient is being referred to a specific regulated health professional for a specific treatment that has regulatory oversight.”

OHIP provides only limited coverage for certain physiotherapy services. For new health technologies and services to be reviewed for potential future coverage by OHIP, the ministry must have information from experts showing clinical evidence and expert advice.

Dr. Awan believes, aside from a lack of research, yoga therapy is not covered under extended health benefits or on provincial plans, such as OHIP, because yoga teachers are not regulated health professionals.

“There’s not as much evidence in the literature to substantiate (the benefits of yoga and Pilates). If the government wants to spend money, they usually have to have some proof of outcomes,” Awan said.

“The ministry does not plan to review yoga as a service for consideration of public funding at this time,” Jensen said.