A Kelowna neighbourhood is going digital to solve the shortage of family doctors in its community by introducing virtual appointments for local patients.

Revolution Pharmacy in Rutland has set up a virtual walk-in clinic through telemedicine, after the main clinic in the area announced it would be shutting down in late August. Telemedicine uses specialized equipment that allows doctors in other locations to make a diagnosis.

Curtis Fieseler, owner and pharmacy manager at Revolution Pharmacy, had seen wait times grow consistently and heard complaints from patients being turned away at the clinic.

"It was becoming a concern for me, definitely, being a healthcare provider in this community," said Fieseler. "I saw the problem getting worse and worse and then when the walk-in clinic announced that it was closing its doors, I thought we needed to do something pretty urgently to find a way for patients to be able to see physicians."

The virtual aspect of the clinic connects patients with a doctor through video and sound over the internet, allowing them to refill prescriptions, diagnose illnesses, order lab work and get references to specialists. All of the doctors are licensed physicians in B.C. and many are sourced from Vancouver.

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The Ontario Telemedicine Network is being used more frequently by Canadian patients in communities where access to a real doctor is a problem. (otn.ca)

One of the issues the pharmacy had to consider was the aging population of the community which uses the walk-in clinic's services more regularly, many of whom aren't tech savvy.

Fieseler's staff is offering help to get seniors who aren't familiar with computers connected by creating email addresses, filling in the necessary medical information and hosting the virtual appointments at his pharmacy.

"We can get them in to see a doctor in as quick as 15 minutes sometimes, including setting up the account and having the doctor online. It allows them to just sit down and have a doctor appear on a screen and then they can have a doctor visit," he said.  

The issues around performing appointments via video link present some problems such as not having the physical interaction that could be required in diagnosing or treating certain ailments.

A patient's best judgment should be used when choosing to access the online services, says Fieseler, advising in instances of chest pains or open wounds that patients go to their nearest emergency department to be treated.

"It's not specifically that this is a better way of doing the visit. It's just that we're running out of doctors to be able to man the walk-in clinics," said Fieseler.

"We're having an issue with walk-in clinics … this is just an alternative way for patients to actually be able to see a physician, especially if there's no other way to see them."