North Simcoe FHT's virtual-care clinic set to expand

May 29, 2020

Orillia Matters article published May 28, 2020

By Mehreen Shahid

The North Simcoe Family Health Team hopes to soon expand its virtual-care clinic program from two to five days a week.

A local health team has a virtual solution for orphan patients in the area.

Noticing the rising need of family physicians in the area and having five physicians retire in the last year or so, North Simcoe Family Health Team (NSFHT) thought it was time to bring technology in the mix. It wants to connect up to 3,000 local patients with family physicians virtually through a virtual care program it currently offers two days a week.

"We have relied on telemedicine in the past to connect people with specialists who are in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area)," said NSFHT executive director Andrew Shantz, adding expansion is slated to happen as soon as possible. 

The model is based on one used a few years ago by the Peterborough Family Health Team, according to Shantz.

"They partnered with the virtual family physician network, an organization that helps connect physicians through telemedicine to communities," he said. "We became aware of their situation and contacted (the virtual family physician network) earlier this year to see if they would interested in doing a similar program in North Simcoe."

This program doesn't act as a walk-in clinic, he said, but it does help reduce pressure on the local hospital's emergency room.

"We supply the space and equipment and the nursing staff," he said, adding physicians, who are typically based in larger urban centres, connect with client via telemedicine. "The program is unique because it connects a patient with a primary care provider long-term. This allows a relationship to be developed between the client and the nurse and the client and the physician."

Amber Kolsen, a registered nurse working with NSFHT, has been helping run the program, which is currently only offered two days a week.

"I think it's a great program," she said. "We've had a lot of positive feedback from clients that have used it, just in terms of how easily accessible it is. It's frustrating not to have a family doctor."

Kolsen said the health team encourages people to inquire about the program and even to try it out.

"There is no obligation to stick with the program," she said. "If they have one visit and don't like the technological aspect, they don't have to stick with it."

In her role, Kolsen said, before COVID-19 restrictions for in-person visits came in place, she had been helping up to 40 people each day, out of the 255 people currently enrolled in the program.

"Anyone who reaches out will be offered a meet and greet," she said, adding it's all done virtually or over the phone these days. "The doctor will review their history and medications."

Kolsen said during an in-person visit, she would be the hands and eyes for the doctor to conduct a physical examination, if needed.

The program has some limitations, she said, in that doctors are unable to see patients with narcotics prescriptions or for acute conditions, which might be best dealt at the ER.

"The good thing is that the physician is able to provide referrals for specialists," Kolsen said.

Visit the NSFHT website for more information.

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