Nfld. & Labrador

Springdale doctor — denied hospital privileges — opens virtual clinic

Todd Young says he's using technology to treat busy people, and he's betting they will pay up front to save time and travel costs.

Todd Young's team will bill patients directly instead of going through MCP

Dr. Todd Young, centre, poses with Brian Warr, the MHA for Baie Verte-Green Bay, left, and Justice Minister Andrew Parsons during an October visit to his Springdale clinic. (Facebook)

A doctor who was denied hospital privileges by the health authority in central Newfoundland is now expanding his practice by treating patients through "virtual visits" on their smartphones or computers. 

Todd Young announced the opening of Medicuro, what he called the province's "first virtual health clinic" on Monday, describing it an "innovative idea." 

He's betting that patients will pay out of pocket — $49 dollars on a weekday or $99 for an overnight appointment — to save time and the cost of travel or a day off work.

"You have to consider the geography of our province," he told CBC News. "I'm targeting busy people, or those who live remotely."

Dr. Todd Young is betting that people will pay for a virtual consultation instead of driving long distances to a medical clinic. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Young, who runs Main Street Medical Clinic in Springdale and sees patients face-to-face there, said he has put together a team of professionals based in Grand Falls-Windsor, St. John's and the province's west coast for his new venture.

The team — one other doctor, a nurse and a social worker — will soon be joined by a nurse practitioner, he said.

"Health care is adapting to consumer needs, and technology is a pivotal tool in this process," Young said in a news release announcing the launch.

"For many, spending time in a waiting room is not desirable. Being able to see a doctor from anywhere — whether from the office, in the early morning with a sick child, or at the cabin for the weekend — encourages people to place their health care first."

Lost licence, court battle

Young made headlines in 2015 when he was sanctioned by the provincial College of Physicians and Surgeons after he admitted to having sex with a former patient and inappropriate conduct with another.

He regained his licence but was denied admitting privileges by Central Health, a losing battle he took all the way to the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court.

Residents of the Springdale area rallied in support of Young and he continued to practise there.

Todd Young operates out of a medical clinic in Springdale, where patients rallied in his support last year. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

A notice on the clinic's website says it is not accepting new patients, but is available for fee-for-service treatments, such as medicals and travel preparations.

Young has been offering opioid addiction treatment via teleconference for the past several months. Medicuro is advertising that it can diagnose and prescribe for a long list of ailments, from insomnia to erectile dysfunction.

I'm targeting busy people.- Dr. Todd Young

Young said his latest venture is similiar to the publicly funded telemedicine system that connects parts of coastal Labrador, and already exists in Ontario and British Columbia.

"I see this as being useful for industry," he said. Medicuro offers corporate plans as well as $579 annual family memberships.

Is it legal?

"On the face of it this is not illegal and this kind of service is provided privately by other businesses in Canada," the Department of Health and Community Services wrote in an email to CBC.

A virtual consultation is not among the insured services covered by MCP so, "Dr. Young is free to charge his clients and that is between him and them."

As for Young's promise that his virtual clinic can send drug prescriptions to a patient's choice pharmacy, the board that regulates pharmacies says that is done now by other doctors.

The Newfoundland and Labrador College of Physicians and Surgeons expects teleheath services to ramp up in 2018.

"We suspect this is the way of the future," said registrar Dr. Linda Inkpen. "We are a little later to the game than other provinces."

Inkpen said the college has developed standards of practice, such as telling patients upfront about payments and the need for confidentiality.

Young said his video chats will use a "secure telemedicine office software," not FaceTime or Skype to protect privacy.

If a patient needs more than a virtual visit, he'll refer them to another health-care professional or an emergency room.