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Interior Health ‘virtual doctor’ pilot program may spread to other communities

Program will run in Ashcroft through May 2023 and is the only one of its kind in the province
The Urgent and Primary Care Centre at the Ashcroft Hospital and Health Site is piloting a ‘Virtual Doctor’ program through May 2023. (Photo credit: Journal files)

The Ashcroft UPCC (Urgent and Primary Care Centre) at the hospital and health site is piloting a “virtual doctor” program: the only one of its kind in the province.

Ashcroft was selected to take part in the Virtual Care pilot project, which started on Nov. 28. As of that date, the UPCC can schedule bookings for people to have a virtual appointment with a physician on weekdays between 9 a.m. and noon. The 9-to-noon schedule for the pilot will be in place through December 2022, and it is hoped that the service can be expanded in the New Year.

The pilot project is scheduled to run through May 2023. During the pilot, the UPCC will remain open for regular operations from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays. In-person physicians are at the site every Saturday and Sunday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., and the Ashcroft Family Medical Clinic remains open for regular physician appointments Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The “virtual doctor” pilot is intended mainly for unattached patients (those who do not have a family physician), although it is available to anyone. The aim is for people who need to see a doctor, but who do not have a physician, to use the virtual doctor rather than have to go to an emergency room for something like a prescription renewal or for follow-up on a diagnostic test.

Patients can call (250) 453-2211 (option 1) to learn more and see if their medical concerns are suitable for virtual care. Patients can also walk in to the UPCC, where a nurse or medical office assistant will speak with them to diagnose their needs. Patients whose needs can be met virtually will be given an appointment as soon as possible, often the next day if no spaces are available on the day they call/visit. If an in-person physician visit is called for, staff can schedule an appointment for Saturday or Sunday, when physicians are at the site.

The virtual doctor option is suitable for health promotion, disease prevention, prescription renewals, driver’s medicals, chronic condition follow-ups, diabetes control, hypertension, and more. A nurse will be with the patient at all times, and is able to assist the virtual doctor by taking blood pressure, listening to a patient’s chest, etc.

Each virtual appointment will be a half-hour long, to make sure everyone has enough time to have their questions answered and all their needs addressed.

Interior Health is still recruiting for one or more physicians to sign on with the Ashcroft UPCC, which opened in September. It provides urgent care services for people with non-life-threatening conditions such as sprains, cuts, high fevers, and minor infections who need to see a health care provider within 12 to 24 hours, but who do not require an emergency department.

The primary care services available at the UPCC include diagnosis and treatment for minor illnesses, as well as provision of harm-reduction supplies and education, reproductive care, vaccinations and injections, early detection, guideline-based chronic disease management, and co-ordination of services, referrals to community services, pre- and post-surgical care, and ongoing monitoring, including of medication.

The virtual doctor pilot program in Ashcroft is the only one of its kind in the province. The hope is that after being trialled in Ashcroft, the program can be rolled out in other communities throughout B.C.

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Barbara Roden

About the Author: Barbara Roden

I joined Black Press in 2012 working the Circulation desk of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal and edited the paper during the summers until February 2016.
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