Ottawa

CHEO launches 'virtual ER' to assess young patients

Eastern Ontario's children's hospital is offering virtual consultations with emergency room doctors as an option for worried parents who may be reluctant to rush their kids to the ER during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many parents reluctant to head straight to ER during pandemic, children's hospital says

CHEO says it's seen a significant drop in ER traffic, partly because parents are worried about bringing their sick kids to the hospital during the pandemic. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Eastern Ontario's children's hospital is offering virtual consultations with emergency room doctors as an option for worried parents who may be reluctant to rush their kids to the ER during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CHEO is running the new service daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Parents are asked to fill out an online form to see if they're a fit for a virtual consultation, or would be better off heading straight to the hospital.

"What we're envisioning is there is going to be a group of patients who have a fairly straightforward problem that can be dealt with in that video interaction with a physician," said CHEO emergency doctor Sarah Reid in an interview on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Monday.

"There's going to be [another] group of patients where we can do an initial assessment and then counsel the family that they need to come to the hospital," Reid said. "We can provide that reassurance some families need at this time that yes, their child does need to be seen in person."

Examples of conditions that could be assessed this way include vomiting, a cut that might require stitches or a bone injury that might require a cast, Reid said. Parents waiting for a virtual appointment will be told to go to the ER if their child's condition worsens, Reid said.

What it takes to treat children via video link. 7:27

CHEO said in a news release it's the first children's hospital to offer these virtual appointments in response to the pandemic. 

Reports of overburdened hospitals have made some parents who should be taking their children to the ER more reluctant to do so. As a result, some parents are waiting too long to seek medical attention for their children, CHEO said.

"In the past 60 days we've seen a significant decline in the number of kids and teens coming to our emergency department, and those who are coming are too often presenting with worse symptoms than we would normally see," said CHEO's president and CEO Alex Munter in the news release.

Reid said CHEO is using encrypted software to conduct the online assessments, similar to other hospitals. If the experiment is a success and CHEO is able to get sustainable funding after the pandemic, Reid said the service could remain in place.

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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