Virtual program connects thousands of Albertans with doctors
Assessing patients from home can help ease strain on hospitals, says Dr. Choy
Since launching earlier this year, a pilot program creating virtual connections between Albertans and doctors continues to reduce unnecessary hospital visits.
More than 8,000 patients have been assessed either over the phone or via videoconferencing, with Alberta Health Services hoping it can improve access for people and reduce strain on the health-care system.
People can access the virtual system by contacting Health Link at 811, with a nurse referring them to a doctor if needed.
"The intent is really to improve access where patients are unable to have access within a certain time frame," said Dr. Jonathan Choy, medical director of the virtual health program.
When the program launched, Alberta was in the height of the Omicron wave of COVID-19. The majority of calls still revolve around symptoms related to the virus.
By assessing patients before going to a hospital or doctor's office, they can cut down on any unnecessary visits, Choy said.
"Probably one in three emergency room visits are diverted as a consequence. So in other words, for every three patients that are seen, normally one of them would have otherwise gone to the (emergency department). They no longer require a visit as a consequence."
Choy said a portion of the people who contact them also have trouble finding a family doctor in the first place, and it allows doctors to connect with patients regardless of where they are in the province.
Seeing patients on video to determine what may be wrong also has a particular benefit for one specific demographic.
"The biggest benefit that many of our physicians feel is being able to assess a child," said Choy. "Because when a parent calls in to describe the symptoms, being able to see that child on video has been very helpful to physicians who work the line."
Every day, there are between one and three doctors working in the program, and upward of 50 calls can be handled.
Choy is hopeful the program can be expanded past its current pilot phase.