Telehealth chain expands rapidly across Canada

By Rosie Lombardi

Dan NeadAn Ontario company has developed a winning model to provide medical care to orphan patients who don’t have a family doctor. Called MedviewMD, the Chatham-based telehealth company has partnered with Guardian, I.D.A., and other major pharmacy chains to open 25 virtual care clinics since it was launched in September 2015. The company provides everything needed – office space, high-end video and biometrics technology, an on-site team of nurses and assistants, and an EMR system – to allow doctors to see patients remotely.

MedviewMD has clinics in B.C and Ontario, is in negotiations to open one in Alberta, and expects to expand into the Prairies and Maritimes over the next year or so. “We expect to have over 100 locations by the end of 2017,” says founder and CEO Dan Nead (pictured).

The company is opening more sites in urban rather than remote rural regions, says Nead. “It’s surprising, but there are more orphaned patients in urban centres.

MedviewMD clinics offer a full complement of medical services, and has carved out a niche that lies in between walk-in clinics and telehealth services for minor ailments. “Patients can walk in, but they can also schedule appointments if they like a particular doctor. We create a care plan for patients coming to see us, and we do full assessments. We also make arrangements for blood work, lab work, X-rays and other imaging, and do follow-ups,” says Nead.

All the clinics are equipped with high-end imaging and biometrics technology to capture vital signs such as blood pressure, glucose levels and so on. “For dermatology, for example, we have exam cameras that can zoom in on a mole. And of course our doctors will send patients to the ER if they’re not comfortable with the virtual examination.”

Another aspect that distinguishes MedviewMD from walk-ins is that the company creates electronic medical records when patients are seen. “We use OSCAR open-source EMR, but it’s been highly customized for use in our clinics. The EMR allows for a ‘continuum of care,’ which addresses the often-cited drawback of walk-in clinics.”

Clinics also provide access to medical specialty areas such as cardiology, dermatology and mental health services. “We provide a broader spectrum of specialty services that fall under the Medview umbrella.”

It’s a win-win scenario for the hosting drugstore and community. “The drugstore gets an increase in foot traffic, and people who need a family doctor can get one virtually. Our goal is to keep the same hours for our clinics as the host pharmacy, which is often open evenings and weekends – this increases access to medical care. Patients are tethered to what we call our centre of care in the community: a medical team of nurses, physician’s assistants, pharmacists and technicians, all housed in one place at the drugstore.”

At present, the company employs about 22 doctors, but it plans to have about 140 on staff at the end of 2017 if expansion plans go as planned, says Nead. “Doctors can work whatever hours they like, but we do want them to commit at least two days a week minimum.”

Most new doctors don’t want to set up practices in remote areas – and now they won’t need to. “We’ve made it super convenient for them to practice in areas they might not want to live in. They’re very keen when they find out how easy it is for them to see patients, without having to worry about hiring staff, renting space and buying an EMR.”

MedviewMD’s medical director, Dr. Chad Burhart, recently spoke at the Family Medicine Forum in Vancouver, which had about 3,000 recent graduates in attendance, says Nead.

“Many of these doctors are unaware of the telemedicine they could be doing until they see what we have to offer. They like how convenient it is to join us. They can make major lifestyle changes by working their own hours. Or they can supplement their existing practices if they want to make more money. We’re actually getting a lot of ER docs who want extra hours.”

The company has not had to recruit medical specialists, as many of the specialists on staff heard about MedviewMD via word of mouth and asked to join them. “The most immediate need has been for addiction specialists, but additional specialists are in the pipeline. However, we want solid commitments from them and fair placement of our patients on their waiting lists. We don’t want specialists who say they will work with us but can’t see our patients for the next three months. That doesn’t work for us.”

Nead has been working with government ministries of health to increase awareness of this alternative approach to primary medical care. “We’ve been asked to be a part of a provincial steering committee in Alberta. The Ontario government subsidized eight physician assistant positions for us, and we are the first ones to hire them in telehealth.”

Beyond drugstores, MedviewMD has ambitious plans to expand into another underserviced area: retirement homes, says Nead. “We are speaking to a number of the larger retirement companies across Canada now. That is just a natural progression for us.”

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