P.E.I. government planning to extend virtual health-care pilot program

·2 min read
Through the virtual care program, Islanders are able to consult with a doctor via text, phone, or video conference. It's all done through an online platform, created by telehealth provider Maple.
Through the virtual care program, Islanders are able to consult with a doctor via text, phone, or video conference. It's all done through an online platform, created by telehealth provider Maple.

(Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)

Health PEI says it is planning to extend a pilot program that offers virtual health care to Islanders without a family doctor.

The program launched last August, five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, as a way to reduce the number of patients visiting walk-in clinics or emergency departments.

According to Health PEI, about 2,000 Islanders are registered for the pilot program. It's set to end March 31st.

"Health PEI is supportive of this program and the benefits it has provided Islanders. We are now working with provincial government partners and the vendor on the process of continuing this service," an agency spokesperson said in an email to CBC.

"On the virtual clinic's busier days, it's now seeing roughly 50 patients per day — a significant diversion of patients who may have had to head to their local emergency department to receive care otherwise."

Submitted by Judy Praught
Submitted by Judy Praught

The program, provided by telehealth company Maple, allows patients to meet with a doctor through a video chat, or to chat with them over the phone or by text.

Judy Praught, who moved to P.E.I. in June and doesn't have a family doctor, said she and her husband have taken advantage of the program multiple times to fill prescriptions and chat about test results.

She's pleased to hear they'll be able to keep using it, beyond March 31st.

"I think it's much needed. It's overdue," said Praught.

"P.E.I. has had a doctor shortage for a very long time, before we moved here. And if that's the only way people can see a doctor without having to go to a walk-in clinic and wait in line, I think it's a terrific idea."

Federal funding to improve virtual care

Since the start of the pandemic, family doctors have also started seeing patients virtually, using Zoom or phone calls.

According to Health PEI, about a third of patients' appointments don't happen in-person.

Now, with the help of nearly $3.5 million from the federal government, the province is aiming to expand the health-care services that are offered virtually.

A Health Department spokesperson said some of the funds will be used to "support the development of a three-year virtual care action plan. The action plan will identify opportunities, establish priorities, and develop a multi-year virtual care road map for the province."

Praught said she's hoping the province will find a way to make virtual care more accessible for some of her older friends, who she said are intimidated by the technology and reluctant to give it a try.

"It works for the people who use it. I think they need to do something to get a lot more of the seniors using it."

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