N.S. using virtual ER to improve care
May 4, 2022
TRURO, N.S. – Nova Scotia Health is testing a virtual care option delivered by emergency department physicians and staff at the Colchester East Hants Health Centre. Known as VirtualEmergencyNS, this pilot program is intended to reduce wait times for Nova Scotians visiting the emergency department with health concerns that can be appropriately treated through a virtual visit. To date, more than 175 patients have received virtual care from one of the eight participating doctors.
“This pilot program builds on a virtual care offering that was started by our emergency department staff during the onset of the pandemic,” said Dr. Janet Sommers (pictured), chief of the emergency department at Colchester East Hants Health Centre. “VirtualEmergencyNS allows us to provide patients who present with urgent but non-life-threatening conditions with more timely access to care.”
Following triage, patients who are eligible for virtual care are offered access to VirtualEmergencyNS. Examples of health concerns that are appropriate for a virtual appointment include: back pain, skin infections, non-heart related chest pain, simple fractures, urinary tract infections, and abdominal pain.
Nova Scotia Health has partnered with Maple, one of Canada’s leading virtual care platforms, to provide the technology for this initiative.
“We’re proud to expand our partnership with Nova Scotia Health in building on Colchester East Hants Health Centre’s virtual emergency department program to help provide high-quality care to the Truro community,” said Dr. Brett Belchetz, CEO and co-founder, Maple. “Digital healthcare innovations – programs like these – allow patients to access local emergency doctors for diagnosis and treatment and save on hospital wait times. We’re certain this pilot program will be highly beneficial among Nova Scotia residents.”
Patients who consent to a virtual appointment are directed to a consult room equipped with a telemedicine cart. The patient is supported by an on-site nurse or advanced care paramedic, who can perform a physical assessment as needed. The VirtualEmergencyNS physician is able to order tests or provide prescriptions for patients directly through the virtual platform.
VirtualEmergencyNS is fully integrated with in-person care at the facility, and patients requiring further assessment are treated by the onsite emergency care team.
Patients whose health concerns are assessed as a 3 (urgent), 4 (less urgent) or 5 (non-urgent), based on the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale, are eligible for VirtualEmergencyNS. The VirtualEmergencyNS physicians perform a virtual examination using video technology and can order diagnostic tests as needed.
Following receipt of test results, patients receive a diagnosis, treatment, and discharge instructions from the VirtualEmergencyNS physician.
During the proof-of-concept phase, VirtualEmergencyNS is available between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays.
The emergency-trained physicians participating in VirtualEmergencyNS are licensed and located in Nova Scotia. This pilot program is being led by Nova Scotia Health’s Innovation Hub and will be evaluated for potential scalability to other sites over time.
Nova Scotia Health’s Innovation Hub leads innovation and research within the health care system to deliver high-impact solutions for patients and providers. Through strategic partnerships with clinical champions, patients and families, industry, health care foundations, governments and academic partners, Nova Scotia Health’s Innovation Hub is transforming healthcare through the best available evidence and innovative solutions.
“Nova Scotia Health is pleased to have implemented another virtual care proof-of-concept program that will improve timely access to emergency healthcare for Nova Scotians,” said Dr. Gail Tomblin Murphy, vice president of research, innovation and discovery, and chief nurse executive, Nova Scotia Health. “We look forward to learning from this pilot through ongoing evaluation to identify its potential for scalability to other locations. Through our Health Innovation Hub, we are dedicated to developing innovative initiatives like this one, which will allow us to transform health care in our province.”