Virtual health care program kicks off in communities across Nova Scotia
The program, provided by Nova Scotia Health and the Department of Health and Wellness, will benefit tens of thousands of people without primary health care providers.
Nova Scotia Health is piloting a virtual health care option for many people who do not have a primary health care provider, helping more than tens of thousands of people in the province.
The program, called VirtualCareNS, will be free and will help people on the Nova Scotia Need a Family Registry of Family Medicine access an online primary care provider through their computer or mobile device.
“We all learn in our lifetimes, and the people who learn probably the fastest and the best are babies,” said Doctors Nova Scotia President Dr. Robyn MacQuarrie. “I feel like we’ve all been babies in the past year; we’ve just absorbed everything around us and learned so many different ways of doing things.
“If you had told me before the pandemic that within a year we are going to find ways to provide care to virtually all Nova Scotians, I would have said, ‘You are nuts.’
VirtualCareNS will first be open to Nova Scotians in Middleton, New Glasgow, Truro and Yarmouth. These are the four communities in the province with the highest rate of patients without a primary health care provider.
About 21,000 people from these four communities are eligible for the first phase of the pilot project.
Initially, the program will only be available by invitation, which will first be sent to people who have been on the Need a Family registry for the longest time.
As of May 1, 65,526 names were in the register.
“They weren’t able to have virtual care like the others because we weren’t offering virtual care through walk-in clinics,” MacQuarrie told NEWS 95.7’s Rick Howe Show. “It’s actually a way of providing primary care through a virtual option for these patients.”
Nova Scotia Health works in partnership with the provincial Department of Health and Wellness to deliver the program. It will be offered by Maple, a Canadian virtual care platform.
“We know that approximately 7% of Nova Scotians do not have access to a primary health care provider and cannot access primary care where and when they need it,” Dr. Brett Belchetz, CEO and co-founder of Maple, said in a press release.
Invitations to VirtualCareNS will be emailed with a unique link to help attendees register.
In addition to being registered in the family medicine registry, participants will need a valid provincial health card number, Internet access and a valid email address.
People who enroll in the program will remain on the registry as long as they do not have a dedicated primary health care provider who can see them for in-person appointments.
VirtualCareNS will eventually be expanded to include all communities in the northern and western health zones of the province. These communities currently represent two-thirds of the names entered in the register.
The program will allow patients to receive care for a variety of problems typically treated by a primary health care provider. Health problems that cannot be virtually solved can be transferred to in-person care.
It will also allow primary health care providers to prescribe drugs (except controlled substances), order tests and refer patients to specialized care.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors in Nova Scotia received a temporary billing code for virtual care last year. It was extended until March 2022, but it remains temporary.
However, MacQuarrie said she believes all doctors recognize that virtual care will become permanent in the future.
She said it was temporary because the Department of Health and Wellness would like to review the program for aspects such as the success rate of virtual care and how well patient needs are being met.
“I really think it’s a good way to find the right people in the right place at the right time with the right supplier,” she said.
The VirtualCareNS pilot project is expected to last two years and cost $ 2 million, most of which will be used for billing. This cost includes a contract – valued at approximately $ 300,000 – with Maple.
Funding for the pilot comes from last year’s Safe Restart Accord, which saw the federal government provide Nova Scotia with $ 289 million in funding. From this funding, Nova Scotia plans to use $ 30.9 million to support its health care system.