New Brunswick

'Skyping' your GP could be in your future, if medical society has its way

The New Brunswick Medical Society wants to step up the integration of virtual care in the province's health system.

Virtual care could include anything from emailing test results to patients, to visits over Skype

Virtual care could help physicians become more efficent and expand their practices, said Chris Goodyear, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society. (CBC)

"Take two aspirin and Skype me in the morning."

That could be a phrase in your future if the New Brunswick Medical Society succeeds with its call for more virtual care in the province.

Virtual care could include anything from doctors emailing test results to patients, to holding a consultation over Skype.

Chris Goodyear, the society's president, said the idea of virtual care isn't to replace the standard doctor visit but to augment it.

"It is a tool that a physician can use to see a patient when a physical exam is not necessary," said Goodyear.

He said a lot of care is now done outside hospitals or doctors' offices, so this is a logical step.

"Years ago, the only time you would get your blood pressure checked would be when you went to your family doctor's office," said Goodyear. 

"Nowadays blood pressure machines are in pharmacies, they're in gyms, you can do it at home, you can constantly monitor your blood pressure … that part of the physical exam that a doctor would perform is no longer necessary in the office."

Goodyear said virtual care would not solve the doctor shortage problem, but it would help.

As of July 2018, more than 44,000 New Brunswickers without a family doctor.

And an aging population, which would include many doctors reaching retirement age, will exacerbate the shortage that already exists.

"Virtual care is being trialled in other parts of North America," said Goodyear.

"The feedback we're getting from physicians is that by incorporating that model as part of what they provide patients, it allows them to be more efficient, which does free up some time to get patients seen quicker and to expand their practice."

Goodyear said some privacy concerns would need to be addressed before any regime was implemented.

"There are platforms where the technology does exist to have this done on a secure platform," said Goodyear. 

"People do their banking online nowadays. So they are comfortable with the notion of, you know, their personal information being ... out there in the Internet."

Existing tech

The idea of virtual care isn't new for the Maritimes.

In 2019, a nurse practitioner in Fredericton opened a private virtual business, where clients could receive a visual exam for a fee.

And in Prince Edward Island, Goodyear said a hospital is testing a form of virtual care for patients.

"There is a model whereby a physician who is licensed to practise in Prince Edward Island is on a screen, and the nurse wheels that around to patients, who are in their bed, and they have conversations," said Goodyear.

"That model has been working now for a year or two and it has been very successful."

Province interested

Goodyear said the society hasn't yet discussed with the province the possibility of virtual care being integrated into the public health system but plans to do so this year.

"I know government is anxious as well to see how this model will help increase access to care and provide care to the patients of New Brunswick especially given our spread out rural population," said Goodyear. 

"So anything that we can enhance care certainly is of interest to government."

In an emailed statement the Health Department said the development of virtual care "continues to be a priority."

"The department is engaged in ongoing discussions on how we, as a province, can enhance these services for all New Brunswickers."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton


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