P.E.I. patients can still see their doctor, even though he's moved to Ireland

Dr. Declan Fox is retiring and moving to Ireland, but the Tignish doctor will continue to see his patients at the Tignish Health Centre over the internet starting in late October.

Dr. Declan Fox will see patients once a week over the internet

Dr. Declan Fox will begin seeing patients virtually in late October. (Steve Bruce/CBC News)

A doctor at the Tignish Health Centre will be offering some of his patients virtual treatment after he retires on Friday. 

Dr. Declan Fox is leaving his practice and will be moving back to Ireland. Currently, he has 2,500 patients and will continue to see some of them over the internet once a week, starting in late October. 

The program is similar to one being run at Western Hospital, said Paul Young, the administrator for community hospitals in West Prince with Health PEI. 

"Essentially we have a television on a cart that has a high-definition camera, a high-fidelity mic and has a laptop connected to it," he said. "We move it from room to room connecting a physician either somewhere in this province, outside of the region or somewhere across Canada into the patient's hospital bed."

Instead of connecting a doctor from somewhere in Canada, the program will connect Fox in Ireland to patients on P.E.I.

I think it's great because you can't get a doctor anyway.— Daphne Butt, patient

Not all patients will receive the virtual treatment, said Young. They will call in with the medical attention they require and staff will decide whether it can be handled with Fox's one-day-a-week virtual care.

Those who need medical attention and don't fit the requirements for the program will be sent elsewhere, he said. 

'Doctor on Skype'

Tanya Ellsworth has been a licensed practical nurse with Fox for the last five years. 

"It's virtually a doctor on Skype," she said. "The doctor is able to converse with me and tell me what he needs done and I can help his cares, and he'll have like an electronic stethoscope and otoscope and things like that. So he'll be able to see and hear, not so much touch."

She said it won't change much about her job. 

Paul Young with Health PEI says this is not meant to be a permanent solution for Fox's practice. (Steve Bruce/CBC News)

"Vitals or procedures or injections or things like that, they're still all guided by Dr. Fox, so my cares really aren't changing much because I'm still in contact with him," she said. 

Since so much of the profession has been digitized, Ellsworth said, the doctor will be accessing information he needs the same way he currently does.

Young said virtual doctors can handle the needs of about 70 per cent of patients who show up at clinics and emergency rooms. 

Health PEI says it's been looking for a replacement for Dr. Fox since he announced his retirement two years ago. (Steve Bruce/CBC News)

Daphne Butt, one of Fox's patients, said even though she's upset he's leaving, she's thankful that he'll still be offering some patients care. 

"I think it's great because you can't get a doctor anyway," she said. 

"You still got your same doctor, he got all the information. So that will be good."

Not a permanent solution

This isn't a long-term solution for Fox's retirement, Young said. Health PEI has been searching for a replacement doctor since Fox announced his retirement two years ago. 

"Going from a physician that's been in the office five days a week, with a very busy practice, to one day a week certainly does not address all the needs within the community," said Young. 

"We'd like to keep the patients with the health centre itself and manage access to their care the best we can and finding either local nurse practitioners or local physicians."

Yound said ideally, a permanent physician replacement will be found.

He said they've had difficulties finding a replacement, but are continuing to search for a suitable solution. 

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