(Originally published in the April 2021 edition of The Walleye Magazine)
Urgent care from the comfort of home is proving to be a welcomed and convenient care option for residents in Thunder Bay who’d rather avoid a trip to the Emergency Department.
Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) launched its Virtual Emergency Department (ED) on January 4th, 2021. The Virtual ED offers same-day virtual assessments with emergency department physicians to people living in Thunder Bay and the surrounding area who are older than 17 years of age, have a non-life-threatening medical issue, and either don’t have a primary care provider or are unable to obtain timely access to one.
“Patient feedback to-date has been very positive, particularly during the pandemic, for those who remain anxious or hesitant to go to the ED, have difficulties getting around, or have no primary care provider,” said Lisa Beck, Director of Trauma, Prehospital Programs, Emergency, Critical Care and Nurse Led Outreach Team at TBRHSC. “We’re pleased to see that people of all ages are accessing this service for a variety of symptoms and conditions. Currently, we see an average of 12 patients per day through Virtual ED appointments and have some capacity to increase those numbers should the demand warrant it.”
Of those who have accessed the Virtual ED since its launch on January 4, 2021, almost 90% rated their overall experience as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ and 98% said that they would access this service again.
Each virtual appointment is booked for 15 minutes, allowing time to establish a connection with the patient’s device, review patient details, perform the assessment and determine next steps. Referrals to community programs, specialists, diagnostic imaging procedures, lab work and/or prescriptions may be provided to the patient upon discharge.
Not only does the Virtual ED benefit the patients accessing the service, it also has positive benefits to the ED, its staff, and others who need urgent medical care.
“The ability to successfully treat some patients virtually reduces avoidable visits to the ED, increasing capacity for those with more urgent needs,” explains Beck. “It also enables the ED to make better use of available space to ensure appropriate physical distancing for those who do need to attend the ED in person, resulting in an even safer environment.”
The Virtual ED is a pilot project that will run for 6 months, ending on June 4, 2021. However, Beck hopes to see the program continue beyond that. “Patients will be sent an evaluation survey link following their virtual appointment and we are encouraging everyone to complete it so we can learn more about their experience and identify ways to improve,” she said. “Based on the results and feedback, we would look to continue offering the service past the trial period and expand to service areas outside of Thunder Bay.”
The virtual assessments are offered Monday to Friday between 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm and can be booked by visiting www.tbrhsc.net/VirtualED. Same-day appointments are made on a first-come, first-served basis to those who are eligible. Appointments take place through secure video chat. To participate, patients need a computer or smartphone with video, a quiet space, and internet access.