Manitoba doctors to provide virtual appointments amid COVID-19 concerns

By: Taylor Allen
Posted: 03/16/2020 7:35 PM

Manitobans may be able to stay home for their next doctor’s appointment.

On Monday, Doctors Manitoba and Manitoba Health announced an agreement allowing physicians to offer virtual patient visits through telephone and video appointments during the coronavirus pandemic. Individual doctor’s offices will be deciding what they can offer via the service over the next few days.

“When it comes to the practicality, whether a clinic is going to offer a telephone visit or whether a clinic’s going to offer a video visit, that’s really dependent on the clinic specifically,” said Dr. Fourie Smith, a family physician at Dakota Medical Centre in Winnipeg and president of Doctors Manitoba.

“The best thing to do would be for the patient to contact the family physician’s office and say, ‘Listen, I’m aware that this is now being offered. What would be the protocol your clinic follows? What will your clinic be offering us as patients?'”

With the growing concern surrounding the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 disease outbreak, Smith said now is the time to have this option available to patients who don’t need to be assessed by a doctor in person and have the ability to participate via phone or video conferencing.

Doctors in Saskatchewan started offering virtual appointments last week.

“The concept of virtual care is not new. It’s certainly something Doctors Manitoba has been promoting for a while. What has only happened now is I think the matter has been brought forward much sooner than everybody has anticipated,” Smith said. “It’s certainly something we actually hope that we may be able to continue providing down the future.”

He admits face-to-face contact would be preferred in an ideal world, but with the ongoing unique set of circumstances, it’s important for doctors and patients to be open to a phone call or video chat. (For those unsure if it will work for their specific needs, Smith advises patients to contact their health-care provider.)

“We’re going to try to make this available as broad as possible. From a hospital setting to a community clinic setting,” Smith said.

“Obviously, the most practical area to think about for the average patient out there is a family community clinic, because we want to advance that advice that’s been provided by the public health officials and not get patients to sit in an office if they don’t need to do so.”

Smith also offered up some advice Manitobans have heard frequently in recent weeks: “Wash your hands, stay calm, eat your vegetables, and make use of virtual care now that it’s available.”

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31