Manitoba

Manitoba patients can now have virtual doctor's appointments amidst COVID-19 concerns

Doctors Manitoba says phone and Facetime appointments will be arranged through individual clinics, and the changes won't reduce quality of care.

Doctors Manitoba says its been pushing for phone, video consultations for some time

It will be up to each doctor's office to decide how they will offer telephone or video chat appointments, according to Doctors Manitoba. (Shutterstock)

Patients in Manitoba can now attend their doctor's appointments over the phone or by video chat, a move meant to decrease face-to-face interactions due to COVID-19 concerns.

"In an ideal world it's always preferable to have face to face contact," said Dr. Fourie Smith, president of Doctors Manitoba. "But we currently face a unique set of circumstances."

It might take a few days for each individual family clinic to set itself up for virtual appointments, according to Dr. Smith, who is also a family physician in Winnipeg.

In the next couple of days, patients will likely be contacted by their family physician's office and offered the option to choose a virtual consultation if they want, he said Monday.

Dr. Smith added virtual doctors appointment are just an option, and they might not work for all patients. In-person appointments in Manitoba are still continuing.

"Certain medical conditions absolutely will necessitate a hands on examination by a physician, and those things will not change," he said.

Doctors Manitoba says there won't be any relaxing of rules around writing of prescriptions, and some people will be still required to see their physician in person.

There will be no relaxing of standards around writing prescriptions, he said, although there are some medications already that can be filled without an in-person doctor's visit.

"That certain standard of care will be able to be provided through the telephone or through videoconferencing," he said.

How virtual appointments will actually work is dependent on the clinic specifically, he said. Patients should call ahead to see if their appointment can be done virtually.

Province, doctors agree on billing for virtual appointments

The concept of virtual care isn't new, and is already in use in other provinces. It's something that Doctors Manitoba has been pushing for a while, Dr. Smith said.

Doctors Manitoba and Manitoba Health announced Monday they had reached an agreement so physicians could bill the province when they provide virtual care, including telephone consultations and video conferencing.

"What has only happened now, I think, is the matter has been brought forward much sooner than anybody had anticipated, and it's certainly something we hope to continue to provide in the future," he said.

The hope for Doctors Manitoba, which represents more than 3,000 physicians in the province, is to make virtual appointments available as broadly as possible, from community family doctors to the hospital.

About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or marina.von.stackelberg@cbc.ca