Thunder Bay hospital opens virtual emergency department
Six-month pilot project aimed at improving access to care for those with non-life threatening medical issues
Some residents of Thunder Bay can now access emergency medical care from the comfort of their own homes thanks to a new pilot project running at the city's hospital.
The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) launched its new virtual emergency department on Monday, an initiative that was spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was noted around the province that there was a significant decline in visits to emergency departments," said Dr. Bradley Jacobson, chief of emergency and trauma medicine at TBRHSC. "We think that a lot of that had to do with people, you know, having fears of being exposed to COVID-19."
In addition, wait times at emergency departments in the province were increasing, while bed space declined due to a need to ensure patients practiced physical distancing, he said.
"We had a lot of sicker people showing up to the emergency department. We figure that a number of those visits could be managed in a more virtual care setting," Jacobson said. "This has been done in private industry for a number of years. So we're setting up a platform locally to be able to provide care to people through a virtual context."
Lisa Beck, the TBRHSC's director of trauma, prehospital programs, emergency, critical care, and the nurse led outreach team, said the virtual emergency department isn't suitable for everyone.
It's open to residents of Thunder Bay and surrounding areas age 17 or above, who have non-life threatening medical issues that need to be addressed within 24 hours, but can't get timely access to a primary care provider.
"Patients who are having a medical emergency, or having serious signs of symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, as an example, or having a mental health crisis should go to the emergency department," she said.
Beck said appointments — which are available between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. daily — are 15 minutes long.
"Following that appointment, there could be a multitude of things that occur," she said. "They could be directed for lab work at our local LifeLabs. They could be directed to have an X-ray at one of the diagnostic X-ray places in the city or at the hospital."
Prescriptions could also be provided.
Jacobson said while the virtual emergency department is currently operating as a six-month pilot project. However, he said the hope is it will continue and allow the TBRHSC to provide better care to rural and remote areas.
For more information, visit the TBRHSC's virtual emergency department web page.