Nova Scotia

N.S. doctors push for making virtual care permanent, not just temporary COVID-19 measure

The Nova Scotia government was quick to embrace the idea of booze being delivered alongside food and now permanently allows it, but are not yet sold on the idea of doctors delivering care by phone or computer permanently.

'They've really come to see how much it improved care for the patients,' says president of Doctors Nova Scotia

Dr. Robyn MacQuarrie says virtual medicine has improved patient care in Nova Scotia and should be allowed permanently. (Doctors Nova Scotia)

The McNeil government still considers virtual medicine "a temporary measure," despite the fact many physicians and patients are eager to see the practice continue.

The new president of Doctors Nova Scotia, Robyn MacQuarrie, doesn't know why the fee code change hasn't become permanent.

She hopes the reason is simply that the province has been busy working on allowing businesses to reopen amid COVID-19.

"I'm hopeful it's not a sign that it's not going to continue," MacQuarrie said.

The McNeil government made a recent change to Nova Scotia's liquor law permanent.

A stock image of a physician sitting at a lap computer.
The Nova Scotia government began allowing telehealth on March 21. (TippaPatt/Shutterstock)

On March 30, cabinet granted bars and restaurants the right to deliver alcoholic drinks along with their food. During a COVID-19 update last Wednesday, Premier Stephen McNeil announced his government would allow the practice to continue indefinitely.

"You adapted in order to stay open and that forced us as a government to adapt with you," he said. "It's gone well and it's worked for your business model, so I want to let you know you can keep doing that, if you want." 

CBC News contacted the province to find out if virtual medicine, announced March 21, was here to stay too. 

Minister of Health Randy Delorey said it would continue to be a temporary measure to deal with the ongoing pandemic. The temporary agreement between the province and Doctors Nova Scotia runs out at the end of June.

He said although the master agreement signed last fall between Doctors Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia government allowed for virtual care, the current iteration was hastily put together to deal with the spread of COVID-19, and it may have "unintended consequences."

Temporary extension possible, says health minister

Delorey said he had heard about one patient's complaint that hearing a diagnosis over the phone had caused extra anxiety.

The minister did not have a timeline for making a decision, although he said it would likely take months, rather than weeks or days.

He said extending the temporary deal is a possibility.

MacQuarrie said she was pleased to see so many of her colleagues — especially those who were reluctant at first — embrace virtual care.

"Even if they were initially resistant, they've really come to see how much it improved care for the patients, for the physician in terms of being able to meet the patient where their needs are," she said.

Virtual medicine 'not a complete solution'

As an obstetrician/gynecologist, MacQuarrie understands not every visit should be virtual.

"There are certainly times, as physicians, where we do need to lay our hands on people," she said. "So it's not a complete solution."

"I don't think we can move into a Star Trek world of diagnosing people electronically. I think there is still a component of medicine that we're always going to have to be able to touch and feel and see with our own eyes."