Health P.E.I. says it's taking action on walk-in clinics, amid doctor and patient complaints
Maple virtual care calls have risen significantly in recent months, Health P.E.I. says
Health P.E.I. says it's making changes after the two-week closure of Summerside's only walk-in clinic put a spotlight on how stretched the province's clinics are.
Dr. Syed Naqvi announced last week that he was shutting down the Summerside Family Clinic for two weeks this month because he couldn't find a doctor to replace him during his vacation. That means no access to a doctor for many people in the city who don't have their own family physician or nurse practitioner.
Health P.E.I. told CBC News in an email this week that it is taking action to make the province's walk-in clinics more efficient.
The agency said it recently increased the pay of doctors who staff them retroactive to Aug. 1, overriding the walk-in clinic fee code in its master agreement with the Medical Society of P.E.I.
It also said the rollout of the long-delayed electronic medical record system is still on pause while it addresses usability concerns raised by physicians.
In an interview Friday, Naqvi told CBC News the system's software was slowing down record-keeping and thus treatment, allowing doctors to see fewer than half their usual number of walk-in appointments.
Naqvi suggested the province hire assistants to help doctors as they learn to use the medical record system. Health P.E.I. responded to that by saying the project already has staffing support, adding: "The Department of Health and Wellness is the lead for this project."
Virtual care service criticized
Meanwhile, some P.E.I. residents are finding the online medical service the province recommends as an alternative to walk-in clinics to be disappointing.
Pat Murray is one of the 25,373 Islanders registered as needing a family doctor or nurse practitioner, as of Aug. 22.
She was at the Charlottetown walk-in clinic an hour before it opened Tuesday to get a prescription filled because she couldn't get an appointment using the Maple health care platform.
"I got in the queue. I was waiting. It got down to a two-minute wait and then it didn't happen," she said. "I got a message to check my email, which I did. And the email said that my area was so busy that there was no physician available, and if I liked, I could try again in an hour. …
"I actually threw up. I have a neurological disease that gives me a tummy that acts up."
Maple connects patients with a P.E.I.-certified doctor who can assess patients and issue prescriptions virtually. The province announced earlier this month that it was looking to expand the program and make it more accessible.
The platform is supposed to be free to those without a primary health-care provider who are on the registry, and those who have lost their family doctor due to physicians retiring or relocating.
But Murray said she had to pay a $49 fee — now refunded because the appointment didn't happen — even though she had lost her own doctor recently.
"At this point, I was so desperate, I was just like, 'I'm not even going to research this anymore. I'm going to give them the money for the one-time-only appointment and try to take it from there,'" she said.
Province says service keeping pace
The province said it's seen a significant increase in patients using Maple over the past few months. The service saw 1,230 consultation request in July, a 30-per-cent jump from the numbers it handled in April.
So far, there have been 1,154 requests in August. Health P.E.I. said that only 14 patients didn't get matched with a doctor on days the system has been busy.
"The service has overall been able to keep pace with the growth in use," the province said in an emailed statement. "The average wait time for service was 23.18 minutes in July."
With files from Brian Higgins