Calgary

Alberta doctors open online clinic months early to answer patients' COVID-19 questions

PurposeMed is an Alberta telemedicine clinic that was set to launch in June but the team rushed to launch early to help ease demand on the province's health hotline, which is overwhelmed with calls about COVID-19.

PurposeMed lets Albertans video chat with a doctor for free, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Dr. Husein Moloo demonstrates how a patient can be seen by a doctor remotely through PurposeMed. (PurposeMed)

Dr. Husein Moloo is at his home, isolating himself because he has a cough.

But that isn't going to stop him from diagnosing or treating patients during the coronavirus pandemic — remotely, that is.

Moloo, a doctor at Calgary's South Health Campus, is one of the cofounders of PurposeMed, an Alberta telemedicine clinic.

The online clinic was set to launch in June but the team rushed to launch early, on Monday, in the hope of helping to ease demand on the province's health hotline, which is overwhelmed with calls about COVID-19.

"I'm hoping it is a game changer," Moloo said. "Especially right now as the government is encouraging people to distance themselves socially, the need for virtual care will just increase."

PurposeMed is free for Albertans to use, unlike some other telemedicine services which charge a user fee or are only available to corporate clients. 

Limiting barriers to access

"We're trying to limit barriers and increase access. Right now it is a social mission," Moloo said.

Albertans can simply visit the website, join the wait list, and wait for a video or phone call from a physician. 

On Sunday, 17 more Albertans were diagnosed with COVID-19, taking the province's total cases up to 56. The province ordered K-12 schools closed as a response, and in-person university classes were cancelled and moved online. The City of Calgary is under a state of local emergency, with recreation centres and library branches ordered to close indefinitely.

The province has an online self-assessment tool to help people determine if they need to get tested for COVID-19. It received more than 300,000 hits in just one day after it was launched, and there have been thousands of calls to HealthLink 811 each day. 

Tom McMillan, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, said the department welcomes different groups offering support, but it's still recommending Albertans use the COVID-19 online self-assessment and, if needed, call 811. 

There's lots of people in remote communities who don't necessarily have access to care.- Peter MacLeod, cofounder of PurposeMed

"From our perspective if we're preventing 50 to 100 people per day not going to the emergency room or their physician's office because they have questions about COVID and don't need to get tested then that's a win from our perspective," Moloo said.

PurposeMed will launch with 10 physicians but Moloo said he hopes others will get on board.

Peter MacLeod, the company's cofounder, said they realized there was an acute need for the service about eight months ago — well before the current health crisis.

"There's lots of people in remote communities who don't necessarily have access to care," he said. "We really want to help the populations that need it most, the populations that are sick and need the remote access to care."

Calgary company behind product

Not only are the doctors Albertans but the company behind the video communication technology is, too.

Trent Johnsen, CEO of Calgary-based liveweb.io, said his team was working around the clock to get ready PurposeMed to have an early launch.

He said interest in the tech, which allows for video calling and chat to be embedded directly in a website, has exploded as telework and self-isolation becomes the new reality around the globe.

"It's a bittersweet increase in interest for us … people are increasingly recognizing the value of the ability to work from home, and there's been a big spike in the use of these types of technologies as a result of COVID-19."

Demand for the telemedicine service was so high on Monday, it overwhelmed the company's servers. PurposeMed said it would be back up and running on Tuesday with extra capacity to serve Albertans.

About the Author

Sarah Rieger

Reporter

Sarah Rieger joined CBC Calgary as an online journalist in 2017. You can reach her by email at sarah.rieger@cbc.ca.

With files from Terri Trembath

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