All 75,000 Nova Scotians with no family doctor will soon be able to get virtual care
Program piloted in northern, western health zones will expand to central, eastern zones in December
Virtual care will soon be made available to every Nova Scotian on the wait-list for a family doctor or nurse practitioner.
Premier Tim Houston made the announcement Thursday, making good on a campaign promise from the summer election.
The program was piloted by the previous Liberal government starting in the spring and was made available to people in the northern and western health zones who had signed up to the health authority's wait-list for a primary care provider.
Starting in December, the program will expand to include people on the wait-list from all health zones. As of Sept. 1, there were more than 75,000 Nova Scotians on the wait-list.
Houston told reporters the widespread lack of access to primary care has a negative ripple effect on the whole health-care system that he hopes to counteract with this expansion of virtual care.
"If we can take a certain percentage of the population and get them access to primary care where they can get some early feedback from a qualified health-care professional, then we can probably remove them from having to interact with the system later, which takes pressure off the emergency room, which takes pressure off the wards, which just takes pressure off the system," he said.
In a news release, Houston's office said it will cost an additional $1.3 million to expand the program to next March, the end of the fiscal year. It cost about $3.8 million to launch the pilot program.
The program will continue to be available "until the health-care system in this province is rebuilt," Houston said.
Thirty physicians are in the process of joining the program to prepare for the expansion, on top of eight physicians and three nurse practitioners who participated in the pilot.
A Health Department spokesperson said the number of virtual health-care providers needed could change depending on patient uptake and appointment volumes.
All the health-care providers involved in the virtual care program are already practising in Nova Scotia and their work on the program will not take away from other services they already provide, Houston said.
As with the pilot, patients will talk to physicians and nurse practitioners through a computer or mobile device. The platform is provided by Maple, a company known for its pay-for-access virtual medicine service.
If a patient's medical concerns can't be resolved virtually, they'll be referred for in-person care.
Since the pilot program launched, about 4,900 people have signed up for the program and 1,500 appointments have taken place.
With files from Jean Laroche