For the past week, Megan Dash's life has been turned upside down. And she wouldn't have it any other way.
Last Thursday, the family physician from Emerald Park, just outside of Regina, started working for a private virtual walk-in clinic, fielding face-to-face video calls from hundreds of Saskatchewan people desperate for advice and solace in the midst of this pandemic.
She's doing this on top of her day job as a family physician with a focus on sports medicine.
One call from a sobbing mother sticks in her mind.
I'm not a soldier, but as health care providers we are the people who are relied upon to help people through this crisis. - Megan Dash - Family physician
"The mom at home with her little baby late at night, absolutely petrified to go out because their poor little one has other medical conditions and just simply needed to talk to somebody," said Dash.
Over the past week, Dash and her husband Jeremy Reed, who's an orthopedic surgeon, have been using an app developed by a private Saskatchewan company to take hundreds of video calls from worried patients across the province.
"This is our war," said Dash. "I'm not a soldier, but as health care providers we are the people who are relied upon to help people through this crisis."
"And if I don't do it, who's going to do it?"
A 'virtual walk-in clinic'
Dash and Reed took the calls through an online app called Lumeca. It's a Saskatchewan based company that, since 2016, has been connecting patients to doctors and nurses through a subscription-based service.
That changed about a week ago, shortly after the province announced that it was going to allow physicians to start billing the public health system for virtual appointments by phone or video.
The province made that announcement on March 13 and Lumeca jumped in.
The subscription model has been set aside.
Since last week, the company has been offering Saskatchewan people a chance to set up a free account on their app and then have a virtual meeting with a doctor by video. The $35-per-consultation fee is paid to the company by the Medical Services Branch of the Saskatchewan government.
Tyson Liske, Lumeca's VP of Marketing and Communications, says his company has contracted with about 20 doctors who are working for a fair hourly wage to consult with patients.
The company hopes this service will take pressure of the province's 811 system, which is supposed to allow patients to connect with medical advice by phone. The system has been overwhelmed and plagued by delays and technical difficulties.
Liske said Lumeca is giving doctors — some forced into self-isolation because of COVID-19 travel rules — a chance to help patients and take pressure off the system. And it's giving doctors like Dash a chance to do more.
"We don't want to do anything to take away from healthcare professionals on the front line," said Liske. "Our Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Mark Wahba instructs all medical staff to prioritize their work on the front line."
Liske said in the past week, Lumeca doctors have fielded more than 1,000 calls from Saskatchewan people.
A family enterprise
By day, Jeremy Reed is an orthopedic surgeon focused on sports medicine. But the College of Physicians and Surgeons has given him permission to do COVID-19 consultations.
He says surgeons like him typically love to operate and aren't fond of clinic work.
But he said the opportunity has been a revelation.
"This has been truly rewarding," he said. "People are extremely grateful... they're relieved that they got the help they need. They're relieved they didn't have to go to a high risk area to get it."
This is a key reason the province decided to fund virtual clinics.
It helps patients avoid crowded waiting rooms and it helps doctors and patients practise physical distancing. Reed sees many benefits.
Sometimes I'm like, wow this is amazing. One hundred per cent this is better than them coming in and taking so much time off of work and seeing me for 5 minutes. - Megan Dash - Family physician
"We could save a lot of people a lot of time and money and lost wages and burnt fuel and carbon credits," he said.
Initially, Dash was skeptical about video consultations but she has quickly become a believer.
"Sometimes I'm like, wow this is amazing. One hundred per cent this is better than them coming in and taking so much time off of work and seeing me for 5 minutes," said Dash.
She said other times, it's tough to do a proper consultation by video chat but she said in those relatively rare cases, the patient can be directed to further medical care.
Dash said she expects that in the future, there may be some debate about a private company like this being funded through the public system. But she said this isn't the time for that debate.
"I don't know how you can criticize it," said Dash.
She points out that patients are told to self-isolate and ensure physical distance and yet our traditional health care system only offers in-person medicine.
She said this system allows patients to follow the rules and get care.
"That is doing what they're supposed to. How else are we supposed to help them if they're actually listening?"