Nova Scotia

Doctors Nova Scotia calls Virtual Care NS ‘a Band-Aid solution’

The president of Doctors Nova Scotia, the group that speaks for physicians in the province, told a legislature committee on Tuesday that virtual care is “a Band-Aid solution” to the growing number of people without regular access to a primary care team.

Dr. Colin Audain said Virtual Care NS and Maple, the private company that provides basic care through a computer or mobile device, was not the answer to the problem — though he acknowledged it was better than nothing.

“In my mind it serves as an opportunity for people to have access,” Audain told reporters following his testimony before the standing committee on health. “It’s a bit of a Band-Aid solution in a way.

“Ideally what we’d like to see is attachment to primary care providers, and that’s not what Maple provides.”

Despite the criticism, associate deputy minister of health Kim Barro told committee members virtual care is here to stay.

N.S. not looking to wind back virtual care

“We’re not looking at a timeline to wind back virtual care,” said Barro. “We actually feel that it’s benefiting patients in terms of access to primary care practitioners and we’re building the appropriate pathways so that if you meet a primary care practitioner through Maple, and you need some other type of service like a face-to-face or specialist or whatever, that those pathways are built.”

As of April 1, the latest Nova Scotia Health figures show 157,264 Nova Scotians were registered on the province’s “need a family practice registry.” Most of those people were new to the area, or had family practices that closed or moved, or had been receiving care from a practitioner that had retired.

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Virtual Care NS was seeing between 400 and 500 patients a day, according to Nova Scotia Health’s chief financial officer. Derek Spinney told the committee YourHealthNS, the app the province paid $10 million for as a “one-stop-shop” to book services, get information and find available health care faster, was recording roughly 100 interactions a day between those looking for help and the app’s chatbot.

Kim Barro is Nova Scotia’s associate deputy minister of health and wellness. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

He told the committee roughly 10 to 20 per cent of those who were seen virtually were subsequently booked for an in-person appointment.

“Most of the time, the vast majority of the time, when they use that service their needs are being met,” Spinney told reporters. “That’s the really good news.”

Man in grey blazer sits at a desk.
Derek Spinney is Nova Scotia Health’s chief financial officer. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

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