Nova Scotia

'It is going to happen': Doctors Nova Scotia, province in talks to expand telemedicine

The talks comes as concerns related to COVID-19 elevate. There are currently no cases of the novel coronavirus in the province, but Doctors Nova Scotia president Dr. Gary Ernest said it’s a matter of when, not if, that changes.

Agency recommends physicians who travel abroad self isolate for 14 days

New measures will soon be in place to allow doctors to see patients using video conference software or provide telemedicine. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The provincial government and Doctors Nova Scotia are in talks to arrange a system where more physicians can use telecommunications with patients.

The talks come as concerns related to COVID-19 elevate.

There are no cases of novel coronavirus in the province, but Doctors Nova Scotia president Dr. Gary Ernest said it's a matter of when, not if, that changes.

Ernest said discussions with the Health Department focus on fast-tracking a variety of ways for physicians to look after people without being in the same room with them.

"It is going to happen," he said Friday. "The logistics are being worked out."

Those logistics include making sure doctors can be paid for providing such services, as well as establishing the systems that will be used.

What's being proposed is a mechanism that would pay doctors in a similar fashion to what they'd receive if the patient came to their office.

Ernest said that although doctors in some provinces are using applications such as Facetime and Skype to see patients, there can be security concerns.

What's being considered in Nova Scotia is video conference options that are compatible with existing electronic technologies for medical records used by most doctors.

"The question is how do we get those fast-tracked [and] being used by docs who aren't set up to use them now," said Ernest.

Patients can still visit the doctor, but Ernest said physicians are being told that anyone who has travelled abroad and is calling with flu-like symptoms should be told to instead call 811 and set up an appointment at a COVID-19 assessment site.

Dr. Gary Ernest is president of Doctors Nova Scotia and a family doctor in Liverpool. (CBC)

While doctors haven't advised people to stay away, Ernest said he expects some people will begin to reconsider if they really need to go to appointments.

"But if I was somebody who had an appointment at a family doctor's office and it wasn't for something that I thought had some degree of urgency, I would be thinking twice before I went, because I wouldn't know what the next person sitting next to me in the waiting room might have."

On Friday, Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said all public sector workers, public school students and children in regulated daycares who leave the country are required to self-isolate for 14 days upon returning to Nova Scotia before they can return to work, school or daycare.

Ernest said Doctors Nova Scotia is advising any physicians who leave the country to observe the same restrictions and, for any doctors contemplating a trip outside the country or to part of Canada where the virus is present, to reconsider their plans.

'We have an advantage so far'

Doctors are also being told to be "extra vigilant" about washing hands and keeping office areas clean, and to see if there are ways to approach day-to-day activities differently so not everyone needs to come to their office, said Ernest.

"It's a question of trying to avoid as many people gathering in one place as possible," he said "It's a way to try and protect themselves, as health-care providers, as well, because if we have a lot of health-care providers become ill then that poses a whole new set of challenges."

As Strang has done at his various news conferences, Ernest stressed that things are changing daily and Doctors Nova Scotia is regularly in communication with members.

Ernest added his voice to the chorus of people calling on the public to follow the guidelines coming from Strang's office.

"We have an advantage so far in Nova Scotia compared to some other provinces in that so far there have been no cases identified.

"And the way to try and keep this virus from escalating to where it could escalate is to try and not give it the opportunity to attach to people."