Sudbury hospital opens first "virtual ER" service in Northern Ontario

·3 min read

Greater Sudbury area residents who have a non-life threatening medical emergency are being invited to take part in a new "virtual emergency department" being offered at Health Sciences North (HSN).

Residents can log in to the new service here to be connected to the hospital online, in French or English. HSN said access can be done through a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Patients will be asked to fill out a form requesting a same-day appointment. The hospital said patients will be contacted by a nurse within one hour to have their situation assessed. That's when a video appointment can be set up with a physician, or if necessary, the patient will be asked to visit the hospital emergency department in person.

Part of the reason for the new service is that some people were reluctant to visit the hospital for fear of coming into contact with COVID-19, said the hospital.

“We’re so happy to be able to offer this service, especially since we saw some hesitancy for some patients to come to the ED during the first wave of COVID-19,” said Dr. Rob Lepage, the Medical Director for HSN’s Emergency Department, who is also an emergency physician.

“We’ve seen our patient volumes spike in the second wave with a lot of overcrowding, so this should help our space issues and maintain physical distancing in the department if there’s a sudden surge of patients.”

The virtual emergency department will operate Monday to Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and has a capacity for 32 patients a day. The service is provided on a first come, first served basis. Once the time slots are filled, additional patients will be invited to visit the emergency room in person. The hospital news release did not provide any examples of medical conditions that might or might not apply to the virtual emergency service.

The Ontario Ministry of Health Emergency Care web page describes urgent and non-urgent situations.

It described influenza, coughs and colds, minor injuries, and more long-standing medical problems as things considered as non-urgent.

Conditions such as eye injuries, wounds, broken limbs, X-rays and laboratory tests are reasons for visiting the hospital where medical help is provided on a 24-hour basis.

The new service is the first of its kind in Northern Ontario, said the HSN release. The Ministry of Health has provided $250,000 in funding to help launch the online emergency service as a way to improve access to care for patients of Northeastern Ontario. The service is being run through the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN).

“Using OTN for our Virtual ED means we can offer quality care in a convenient, safe and secure way, right from the comfort of the patient’s home,” said Dr. Renee Anne Montpellier, an emergency physician at HSN who is one of the leads for the Virtual ED project.

“It allows for greater access to timely care for patients who have mobility issues, or limited access to care due to where they live,” said Montpellier

Patients who have a primary healthcare provider such as a family physician or nurse practitioner, are encouraged to attempt to access their own healthcare provider first before accessing the virtual emergency service.

The hospital said the virtual emergency department does not accept patients under the age of 12 months, or anyone with serious or life threatening medical issues. For healthcare emergencies, patients should contact 911 or go directly to the Emergency Department, said the news release.

Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com