As of Aug. 1, Saskatchewan Health Authority has started its new Virtual Physician (VP) program at the Galloway Health Centre in Oxbow.
The VP program provides nursing staff remote access to a physician using the existing infrastructure of HealthLine 811 at the time when no local physician is available to provide emergency department coverage.
“If a patient is sent to the emergency room, the nurse will make an assesment on them like they normally would, as well as triage the patient, to determine what level of care acuity they require,” said Sheena Grimes, SHA Director of Primary Health Care.
“Once they’ve completed that assesment, then the nurse will call 811 and connect with a virtual physician at that time. They will receive the orders from that physician or whatever next steps are necessary.”
Grimes said the program is a temporary solution for the community of Oxbow, due to the town’s health centre being short of two out of its three physicians, since the end of June.
Oxbow is the second community that the VP program will be used in, as it was first launched in Porcupine Plain during late June.
“With the Virutal Physician project we are looking at how we can provide services to communities that would be on disruption because there’s no local physician there,” said Grimes.
“As we are working through this project, we continue to recruit physicians through the Oxbow area.
“We’re expecting that our third physician should arrive in the fall.”
Although there is no set time for how long the VP program will run for, Grimes said it will be utilized to help fill the physician gaps at Oxbow’s Galloway Health Centre.
“We’re hoping that once the new physician is up and running (in the fall), we’ll be able to experience 24/7 onsite physician services again,” she said.
“However, we recognize that this could provide a stop to the gap, in the event there isn’t a local physician available. Although this is a temporary solution, we don’t have a firm end date.”
Grimes was asked why SHA felt Oxbow was a good fit for the virtual physician program.
“Oxbow was identified as a good fit, as I mentioned they did lose those two physicians, so it’s very difficult for one physician to maintain a 24/7 ER service,” said Grimes.
“We did have a new SIPPA physician that just started on July 17. We just felt it would be a good opportunity to pile it in the project. If the community needs to experience service disruption, how do we stablize the ER service to provide at least some services in the meantime through the virtual physician program.”
With the program still being fairly new, SHA may expand its use to other communities that are also experiencing physician shortages as well.
“The process that we’re using is to learn from each of the locations as they’re onboarded,” said Grimes.
“As well, to how we can make the process better, and if there’s opportunities to replicate the program to further locations, then that may be considered in the future.”
Although Grimes was not directly involved with VP program being used in Porcupine Plain, she spoke about some of the feedback SHA has received so far about it has been utilized.
“The feedback that we received, we’ve been able to utilize some of the work standards and processes they’ve gone through Porcupine Plain, to implement it in Oxbow to help the process of it running smooth,” said Grimes.
“I do think to this point it has been quite successful, but I haven’t been directly involved to comment.
“We’re really excited to have this innovative opportunity to provide a more stable ER services in the community. We’re looking forward to the continued roll out.”
By Sierra D’Souza Butts, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Aug 08, 2023