N.S. offers virtual health care to all 105,000 residents waiting for family doctor

·2 min read

HALIFAX — The government of Nova Scotia is expanding virtual health care to all 105,000 residents who are waiting for a family doctor, offering them access to online medical appointments.

Everyone on the primary-care registry can now sign up for care through a website called VirtualCareNS, Nova Scotia’s Health Department said Wednesday.

Nova Scotia’s list of residents waiting for a family practice has continued to rise month over month. As of Aug. 1, there were nearly 105,200 people registered as waiting for primary care, compared to about 72,000 residents in August 2021.

NDP health critic Sue Leblanc said in an interview Wednesday the expansion is good news following the province’s “slow rollout” of online medical care. But she added that while virtual care is valuable, it does not replace the need for in-person visits with physicians or nurse practitioners.

“This is still a stopgap, Band-Aid measure,” she said.

The government had been offering virtual care appointments gradually to Nova Scotians on the doctor wait-list for the past few months but was criticized for moving too slow. It opened virtual care for people in the northern and western zones through an email invitation. And in December 2021, it began gradually offering virtual care — also through email invitation — to people on the wait-list in the central and eastern zones, at a rate of about 500 people a week.

Wednesday's announcement means all 105,000 will have immediate access to online medical appointments. There will be about 150 to 200 virtual appointments available with about 60 doctors and nurse practitioners each weekday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and on Monday evenings until 7 p.m.

Health Minister Michelle Thompson said in a statement this service will offer Nova Scotians access to care as the government recruits more primary health providers.

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill, who served as health minister when the virtual-care pilot project began, said in an interview Wednesday he’s happy with the expansion. He said virtual care has the potential to alleviate pressure on emergency departments, where many are forced to go when they are without a family doctor.

But he said that as a whole, the governing Tories have “made decisions that have contributed greatly to (the health system) getting worse,” such as the government's handling of COVID-19.

Churchill said the province’s halting of regular COVID-19 reporting and widespread testing has contributed to the virus “flooding through the hospitals, which has made the health-care labour shortage worse and wait times longer.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2022.

Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press