It’s a trend industry experts believe is here to stay – offering primary healthcare at walk-in clinics where patients are connected via technology to physicians in other locations. It is just catching on in Ontario, but is well established in the United States. Leo Liao is a manager of two such clinics called Good Doctors that have been operating in Sudbury since November. Patients who access the clinics are assessed first by Ashton Labonte (pictured), a registered practical nurse (RPN) who collects their medical history and takes their vitals if necessary.
RPNs can take swabs of sore throats or to check for urinary tract infections and have the test results ready when they connect with one of five doctors in Toronto and one in Windsor.
Doctors can listen to patients’ heartbeats through stethoscopes connected electronically from the clinic to their offices and examine a patient’s ear, nose and throat with what essentially are remote scopes.
Good Doctors also has a psychotherapy specialist, Dr. Liliana Diaz, who just recently joined its team.
Liao said his group was drawn to Sudbury due to the high number of ‘orphan patients’ – people without a primary care practitioner – in Sudbury, which is estimated to be as high as 30,000 in recent years.
The clinics and the doctors are connected by the Ontario Telemedicine Network, which Liao says is the largest service of its kind in the world.
Good Doctors is looking for opportunities to open more clinics in smaller, more remote communities where access to primary care is limited, he said.
Sound and picture quality is important when patients are linking up with doctors some distance away, and broadband Internet is providing that quality from Sudbury. At least one doctor is on duty to see patients with a backup doctor on standby if needed.
Liao said about 40 patients seek care there every day.
With RPNs acting on doctors’ orders, training for them is vital as is a good relationship between them and the physicians with whom they are connected.
Doctors must be comfortable enough with nurses to delegate tasks, said Liao, who visits Sudbury from Toronto about once a week.
He understands some people may be skeptical about long-distance medicine, and said time will tell how successful they are.
Doctors will refer patients seen in Good Doctors clinics to physicians for in person visits if they think they require it or send them to the hospital emergency department with a note explaining what they have noted in their OTN examinations.
Referrals to specialists, requests for blood work and prescriptions are all transferred via the Internet from doctor to clinic.
Liao said he talked to people in Sudbury before the clinics were established and determined there was a need for more walk-in clinics. Good Doctors also makes appointments for patients to be linked up with its physicians.
The acceptance of telemedicine has increased, especially in the last year, said Liao. “Maybe some of it has rubbed off from what happening in the U.S. In the states, it’s really taken off, in large part due to the passing of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and the prevalence of private insurance medicine.”
While having a regular primary care practitioner is ideal for patient health, Liao believes patients visiting a clinic like Good Doctors are getting the equivalent level of care they would at any walk-in clinic.
About 15 minutes is scheduled for each patient visit. Liao said it’s important to give patients a chance “to tell their stories” or something may be missed.
Good Doctors just has the two Sudbury locations for now, but is looking to expand, said Liao.
For more about the clinics’ hours and services, go to www.gooddoctors.ca
Source: The Sudbury Star