Renfrew adds paramedic visits to virtual visits
May 27, 2020
PEMBROKE, ON – In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Eastern Ontario region of Renfrew County established a virtual visit service that provides telemedicine visits between doctors and patients. But the centre has gone a step further, allying with paramedics to provide in-home visits to patients who need hands-on assessment and diagnosis.
The Renfrew County Virtual Triage and Assessment Centre (RC VTAC) was launched in March to strengthen access to primary care for all Renfrew County residents. It’s a collaboration between Renfrew County Primary Care teams, the County of Renfrew Paramedic Service, Renfrew County Hospitals, and the Renfrew County and District Health Unit, with the support of Ontario Health East.
“This new approach allows the community paramedic a direct link to a physician for a patient who may not be able to reach their family doctor, or who does not have a family doctor,” said Mike Nolan (pictured), chief, The County of Renfrew Paramedic Service. “Historically, these would have resulted in 911 calls and transportation to Emergency Departments.”
Nolan added, “We know that many of the people calling RC VTAC would have, in the past, called 9-1-1 or presented themselves to the Emergency Department as it was their only choice. For those patients that primary-care providers are concerned about, a community paramedic will go to their home, do a follow-up assessment, initiate treatment, and in some cases leave behind remote monitoring devices so they can be managed virtually, 24/7.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic all five Renfrew County Emergency Departments remain open and residents who are experiencing a health emergency are urged to call 9-1-1 immediately. This may include:
- Suspected heart attack
- Major bleeding
- Suspected stroke
- Severe breathing problems
“When the pandemic struck, we focused regionally on how to preserve hospital capacity in the case we experienced a surge of patients,” said Eric Hanna, president and CEO, Arnprior Regional Health. “The RC VTAC is one of many complementary and successful strategies that we have deployed in Renfrew County to protect our Emergency Departments.”
The Community Acute Team (CAC) is a critical part of the RC VTAC strategy to prevent unnecessary 9-1-1 calls, Emergency Department visits and hospital admissions. The CAC functions as a “virtual ward” with appropriate physician support to allow patients to be managed safely in the community rather than the hospital. The CAC provides support when a patient through the RC VTAC is identified as requiring further comprehensive assessments, ongoing monitoring and/or treatment in their home.
The RC VTAC has now assessed approximately 3,300 patients through a virtual visit with a family physician since it launched on March 27, 2020. In addition, nearly 2,600 patients received an in-home assessment by a community paramedic and the majority were eligible to be swabbed for COVID-19.
Dr. Robert Cushman, acting medical officer health, Renfrew County and District Health Unit added: “This system will provide all residents, who must self-monitor for symptoms, quick access to telephone assessments by highly-skilled healthcare professionals. Equally important, it will reduce the number of people coming unnecessarily to clinics and hospitals, thereby reducing the spread of infection. It is worth repeating that the primary duty of every citizen is to stay home, and when out for only essential shopping or some fresh air, to keep more than six feet away from others.”
The County of Renfrew stretches west from Ottawa to the northern tip of historic Algonquin Park. Geographically, it is the largest county in Ontario and is made up of 17 communities and a population of about 117,000.
The service is covered by OHIP and can be accessed 24/7 by calling 1-844-727-6404. Learn more at www.rcvtac.ca.