Doctor says clinic 'doing visits differently' to limit number of patients amid COVID-19 pandemic

A Toronto doctor says her clinic is "doing visits differently" to keep patients as safe as possible in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Jenny Clement, who works out of a Toronto West Medical clinic on The Queensway in Etobicoke, said the clinic is recommending telephone and video conference appointments for patients who have everyday health problems.

Doctors in the clinic, which is on the main floor, have even done visits in the parking lot, she added.

"What we're really trying to do is limit the number of people who are physically coming into the office," Clement told CBC Toronto on a day that local health authorities said there are now 177 cases of COVID-19 in Ontario — a jump of 32 cases from Sunday afternoon's official tally. All but nine of those are in the GTA. Five of them have been resolved.  

As of Monday, there were three suspected cases of community spread in Toronto.

Clement said she herself would recommend that patients cancel in-person appointments for routine issues and arrange to talk to a doctor over the phone or through a video conference instead. A phone call or video conference is usually sufficient to deal with non-essential issues, she added.

"We're not trying to off-load their regular care or their concerns. We're happy to deal with those here, but you'll just probably be offered a visit in a slightly more creative way."

Clement said seeing or talking to the doctor, but not in person, is social distancing in a medical setting,

"I think that most family doctors' offices are recognizing that these are unusual times," she said.

An example of a visit that could be done over the phone is a renewal of a prescription, she said. 

"We're trying to reduce the amount of interaction between patients sitting in a waiting room," she said.

If a patient has severe or worsening symptoms, shortness of breath or chest pain, she said that person obviously needs to go to the emergency department or call 911 for an ambulance. 

But for everyday health issues, there are ways to get medical help and not have a lot of social interaction at the same time, she said.

Ideally, she added, the Ontario health ministry would provide doctors with appropriate protective gear, such as masks, to keep them safe as they continue to see patients, she said. Much of it is going to hospitals, she said.

Protective gear would be welcome, she added, because: "We are often the last line of defence to keep people out of the emergency room and out of the hospital," she noted.