It’s not a typical place to go see a doctor.
But in a room at the Cridge Family Pharmacy in downtown Victoria, a registered nurse is waiting to greet patients, conduct an assessment, then pass that information onto a physician or nurse practitioner who will pop into the room on a specialized video conferencing screen.
The physician can be 3,000 kilometres away, but specialized software allows them to do things like listen to a patient’s heartbeat through an electronic stethoscope and otiscope, conduct a physical with an exam cam or simply renew prescriptions.
Created by Medview MD, the new medical studio is the first of its kind to open in Victoria, according to the company’s CEO Dan Nead, who began the service about a year ago after continually hearing about doctor shortages across the country.
“You can get a regular physician and can also connect to a specialty doctor and reduce that wait time. It makes a lot of sense,” said Nead, who believes Medview MD could help ease the doctor shortage and offers a place for the public to see a doctor in a timely manner.
More than 12,000 consultations have been conducted in less than a year at the Ontario-based company’s dozen or so locations in Canada. Six locations are now open across B.C. with more slated to open soon as more doctors get on board.
“It has an impact on everyone…the doctors really love what we offer because it’s a lifestyle change for them. They can work from home, at the cottage, from the existing place of business. It just allows them to better manage their time.”
The telemedicine industry is one that’s been growing across Canada for several years and has largely been used by clinics in rural or remote areas that need access to doctor’s opinions.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority uses Telehealth technology to connect patients to health care services regardless of where they live, and routinely uses the technology for a number of things such as heart health, endocrinology, eating disorders, genetics, primary care, mental health and substance use.
According to Nead, Medview MD is different in that it’s a walk-in or appointment format, and takes place at a set location adjacent to a pharmacy with a registered nurse on hand. The company is also expanding its services beyond primary care into specialties such as dermatology, mental health and addiction.
Dr. Chris Watt, owner of Cook Street Village Medical Clinic, has had some involvement with telemedicine, particularly Medeo’s software, which rolled out in 2013, allowing British Columbians to speak to their doctors by video link without making a trip into an office.
From what he’s heard, Watt believes the latest technology to be rolled out in Victoria is a bit more advanced than earlier telemedicine efforts, but he said it won’t address the shortage of doctors.
“It has its place. It’s a limited role in my opinion,” said Cook. “It will be helpful and it certainly will provide patients with another option for accessing health care during this time.”
Cook calls the doctor shortage in Victoria “a real crisis.” Every day he sees patients who’ve lost their family physician of 20 or 30 years due to a variety of reasons, and he doesn’t believe there are any family doctors in the city currently accepting patients on an ongoing basis.
Watt, however, is encouraged by the stream of graduating medical students who’ve been swinging back to primary care during the last three or four years. Last year more than 50 per cent of graduating medical students were choosing family practice, noted Watt. That number had plummeted to about 23 per cent during the last 10 to 12 years.
“The pendulum does seem to be swinging back and that’s one glimmer of hope that I have,” Watt said. “There’s a grey tsunami of family doctors rapidly approaching retirement. As they step off into retirement, patients will still require care, which will further increase the burden on an already over burdened primary care system.”