Nova Scotians who need a family doctor and are on the provincial wait-list can now sign up for a free service that offers online appointments with a doctor or nurse practitioner.
Previously, people needed an email invitation to use the service, called VirtualCareNS, but as of Aug. 31, anyone on the Need a Family Practice registry can use it.
"We want Nova Scotians to be able to access care when and where they need it," said Health Minister Michelle Thompson in a news release. "As we continue to recruit more health-care workers and find innovative health-care solutions, we are pleased that all Nova Scotians on the registry will be able to use VirtualCareNS."
VirtualCareNS was started in May 2021, and more than 21,000 virtual appointments have taken place since then for everything from mental health concerns to prescription renewals, skin problems, infections, minor injuries and joint pain, according to the news release.
To date, about 110,000 people have been invited to join, and 31 per cent of them have registered. The health authority says a recent survey found that about half of respondents who hadn't registered said they were interested in using the service in the future but did not need it yet.
The average wait time for people who want an immediate appointment is 90 minutes from request to appointment.
Province pays fee to Maple
VirtualCareNS is delivered using the platform Maple, and care is provided by 54 family doctors and seven nurse practitioners located in Nova Scotia. Sixteen more doctors and six nurse practitioners are in the process of being trained for the service, and the province says more are being recruited. Virtual visit volumes are used to determine the number of providers needed.
The province pays a monthly licensing fee to Maple for VirtualCareNS and VirtualEmergencyNS, a program intended to reduce wait times for people visiting the emergency department with concerns that can be treated virtually. Those licensing fees amount to about $500,000 per year.
Appointments for VirtualCareNS are available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. AT and until 7 p.m. on Mondays.
People whose health concerns can't be dealt with online will be given options for an in-person appointment.
As of Aug. 1, there were 105,187 Nova Scotians on the wait-list for a family doctor, an all-time high. That number is up from July 1, when there were 100,592 on the list.
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