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Transforming access to primary care in the North with new virtual clinic

Transforming access to primary care in the North with new virtual clinic

May 4, 2021 at 4:51 pm  BC, News, Politics

Tens of thousands of people in northern B.C., including rural and remote communities, will have same-day access to the health-care support they need, as government launches the Northern Health Virtual Primary and Community Care Clinic.

People living in the Northern Health region can access the clinic by calling 1 844 645-7811.

“Every person in British Columbia deserves to have the health care they need, as soon as they need it, wherever they live,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “People living in rural and remote communities in B.C. have faced challenges in accessing health care for too long. The launch of the virtual clinic will mean that people will be able to see a primary care provider and have access to efficient, same-day health-care services, in their own home, virtually.”

People living in the most remote and underserved communities, those without a family physician or nurse practitioner and those in need of everyday health care after business hours will be able to speak to a health-care provider between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., seven days a week and on holidays.

The virtual clinic has 28 full-time equivalent health-care providers made up of telecare and front-line nurses, clinic co-ordinators, administrative staff, a telecare team lead and a program specialist, with plans to expand in the future. The virtual clinic will serve patients experiencing a variety of symptoms, such as skin rashes and infections, asthma and mild breathing difficulties, sprains, earaches and flu-like symptoms. The clinic will also offer care for those experiencing mental health challenges or wanting substance use treatment, such as opioid agonist therapy.

“This will be a game changer for people who need mental health care, because we’ve developed this virtual clinic with them front of mind,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Together, we’re building a system where treatment for mental health is on par with any other health condition. I’m grateful to everyone involved in making this a reality.”

The virtual clinic builds on the success of the COVID-19 Online Clinic and Information Line, which launched in March 2020 as a temporary service to provide COVID-19 related care during the pandemic. With funding of $3.8 million from government in 2020-21, the virtual clinic is a permanent program with expanded services to include the delivery of primary and community care.

“Many people living in the North lack a family physician or nurse practitioner, and many communities don’t have walk-in clinics, so health-care needs often go unmet,” said Jennifer Rice, MLA for North Coast. “Thanks to this new virtual clinic, northerners will now have access to expanded primary care.”

Working in collaboration with existing community-based primary care services, the virtual clinic is a regional primary and community care service, connecting people to care when they need it most. The clinic will also function side by side with the First Nations Health Authority Doctor of the Day program.

“Today’s announcement is welcome news for people in the North,” said Nathan Cullen, MLA for Stikine. “Our government understands that it is critical that all rural, remote and Indigenous communities have access to the health-care services they need.”

The virtual clinic is part of an ongoing enhancement of digital patient care options involving technology, including the recent launch of HealthELife and Northern Health Check In online tools. All these options use encryption to promote safe delivery of care and storage of data that ensures patient privacy.

Quotes:

Cathy Ulrich, CEO, Northern Health Authority —

“This virtual clinic will make a meaningful difference in addressing our large geography and service availability in small remote communities. Since we launched the virtual clinic at the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve heard from many people about the difference an accessible virtual service is making in their lives.”

Michael Sandler, executive director, Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of BC —

“The Association of the Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of BC is pleased that British Columbians living in the North will have improved access to health care through the new virtual clinic. We believe that this approach will be pivotal in ensuring B.C. families can access the health care they need, and we are excited to see the launch of a permanent virtual-care clinic.”

Learn More:

To learn more about the virtual clinic, visit:
www.northernhealth.ca/locations/medical-clinics/virtual-clinic

To learn more about the Province’s primary health-care strategy, visit:
https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2018PREM0034-001010

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