Province announces virtual care contract

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The provincial government announced Monday it will launch a new virtual care service this fall that will increase access to health care for rural areas and residents who do not have a primary care provider. Tom Osborne, minister of Health and Community Services, made the announcement as part of the latest health care action update. According to a news release, the virtual care service will include virtual primary care for residents who do not have a primary care provider and have registered on patient connect. This access will be through a virtual physician available Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; a virtual emergency room that will ensure virtual physician coverage 24 hours per day, seven days per week to emergency departments in select rural health-care facilities that do not have local physician coverage; and other needed physician coverage such as urgent care centres. A contract valued at $11 million annually has been awarded to Teladoc to provide virtual technology, as well as physician coverage for two years. The provincial government reiterated its 19 previously announced family care teams and recruitment strategy that has recruited more than 72 doctors since April. “This (virtual care) service is a proven way to provide health-care services in communities where it is difficult to recruit health-care positions,” Osborne said. “This contract means more people will have greater access to emergency care in rural emergency departments, and people without a primary care provider will have increased access to primary health care. We continue our recruitment for all health-care professionals and look forward to building on our recruitment successes.” The news release notes the service will begin with the launch of a virtual emergency room at the Dr. Y.K. Jeon Kittiwake Health Centre in New-wes-valley this week, and will expand to other communities in the following months. Residents who are registered through Patient Connect or other provincial wait lists and have a valid MCP will receive a letter in the mail informing them of how they can access the virtual care service. This will be rolled out in the upcoming months, with the first eligible residents receiving a letter in the upcoming weeks. Stephen Greene, vicepresident of digital health and chief information officer with NL Health Services, said the expansion of virtual care services represents NL Health Services’ commitment to increasing access and reshaping the healthcare system as envisioned by Health Accord NL. “Through the use of new technology, we are pleased to be able to offer virtual primary care and virtual emergency care services which will add new capacity for our health system, so that individuals can get care when and where they need it most,” he said. NL Health Services will continue to work to assign those who register to a family care team or primary health care provider when one becomes available in their area.