A program piloted in western P.E.I. offering virtual health care for people at home without a primary provider is being expanded by the province.
It's part of a partnership with telemedicine provider Maple, which has been providing telehealth appointments for Western Hospital in Alberton.
When the pandemic caused hospitals on P.E.I. to shift to providing only essential services, it highlighted gaps in the Island's health-care system in general, said Dr. Kiley O'Neill, a family physician working at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
"One of those of course being the fact that we have a number of Islanders who do not have primary care practitioners," she said. "So when the walk-in clinics all but shutdown there was nowhere for these patients."
COVID-19 caused even further issues because the only way for those people to access a primary care provider was at an emergency department, O'Neill said.
"We needed to come up with something for the future because we know that there will be another wave, at least, of this," she said.
Now, people on the provincial patient registry are being contacted with the opportunity to register for the virtual care program for medical care that can be delivered through an online video messaging service.
"We started with 500 patients last week, I believe we are taking 500 more this week. And we will just keep rolling it out until we get the majority of people signed up," O'Neill said.
She said people will get an email with a unique access code to go online and sign up. Patients are asked to complete a health profile with past medical history, which will be kept confidential.
"You can use it online via computer, but I believe there is also a telephone function for people who don't want to use face-to-face on computer," she said.
Not open 24 hours
It works as a "walk-in" appointment online — people log on and contact a physician who is also online using the service, O'Neill said.
"At this point we have seven physicians who are signed up," she said, adding appointments depend on their availability.
"We don't have 24-hour access at this point, we don't have enough physicians to do that," she said, but she is hopeful more physicians will sign up.
O'Neill said of the 500 people contacted last week, about 14 have signed up. She said with walk-in-clinics opening back up as COVID-19 restrictions ease, people may prefer going in person.
However, she said it is important to establish the framework now for a virtual program in case things shut down again because of a second wave of COVID-19.
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