Thursday, May 23, 2024

Virtual urgent care at Canso hospital hailed as ‘great option’

Healthcare working group gets orientation on new service

  • May 15 2024
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

CANSO — Efficient, cheerful and even a little disarming is how Susan O’Handley, co-chair of the Canso & Area Healthcare Working Group, describes Eastern Memorial Hospital’s (EMH) new virtual urgent care pilot program unveiled last month by Nova Scotia Health (NSH).

“Nothing replaces an actual physician, of course,” she says. “But this looks like a great option for urgent care ... And it is great.”

O’Handley had the opportunity to experience how the new service works by attending a simulated “run-through” staged by hospital staff for her and a few of her working group colleagues on May 3. Unveiled as a pilot project for EMH, Guysborough Memorial Hospital and St. Mary’s Memorial Hospital last month, the program puts patients with urgent, but non-life-threatening conditions, in touch with doctors and nurses – who could be physically located anywhere – at the tap of a computer tablet.

Says O’Handley: “The hospital wanted some key people involved in the medical community in the area to come in and ask some key questions and understand it [as] they put it out to the public... So [for us] they had this fake [patient] called ‘Crispy Bacon.’ [Apparently], she’d been working in the garden when something happened.”

Taking ‘Crispy’ through all the steps, she says, demonstrated the procedure’s efficiency – starting with triage, where patients coming into the hospital’s emergency department, see an onsite nurse to register and be evaluated for conditions eligible for virtual care, including coughs, colds, sprains and urinary tract infections.

Patients who elect virtual care are then connected to an online doctor in an onsite room. Once the virtual physician visit finishes, hospital staff follow up to review results, provide any orders for tests or prescriptions and ensure the patient understands any next steps before they are released/discharged. Virtual nurses may also provide patient support during and after a visit.

“They [nurses and doctors] are not in the same room with you, but they are, you know, via technology,” O’Handley says. “I think the majority of our nurse practitioners [that day] seemed to be from Newfoundland and Labrador.”

In the end, she says, “What they [hospital staff] did was really well done. They took you through the process, to each of the places – where you would start, where you would register. And [they explained] how you could be taken into an examination room where it could be private.”

Speaking to The Journal last month, Andrew Heighton, NSH’s director of integrated rural health for the Eastern Zone, said the new virtual urgent care service “is not a replacement for low staffing.”

He added, “We continue to recruit and retain healthcare workers. Virtual care is an enhancement and also a resource that we can use in unforeseen instances where we do have closures temporarily while we try and recruit to have better staffing levels.”

According to O’Handley, that’s crucial for the Canso area.

“There are always people from Nova Scotia Health actively recruiting [medical staff] for us and keeping us in the loop, but it’s a long process. In the meantime, this is a great option. It’s a great option, even if we have doctors in the community and they are held up with an emergency or something.”

According to NSH, EMH has approximately 50 staff members in various departments (nursing, medical laboratory, diagnostic imaging/x-ray, rehabilitation services and administration). Two locum physicians, a family practice nurse and a licensed practical nurse serve the coverage area while recruitment for additional physicians and a nurse practitioner is underway.

The virtual urgent care program at EMH operates Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.