The executive director of the society running two clinics on the Saanich Peninsula says it is constantly working to improve accessibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, while acknowledging that tele-health by phone or video model is not ideal.
Shawna Walker, executive director of Shoreline Medical Society operating medical in Sidney and Brentwood Bay, said each facility continues to receive thousands of calls every day. The Brentwood Bay location receiving 7,311 calls per day on average and Sidney recording about 6,200 per day.
Like many, the facilities almost immediately switched to a tele-health system after physically closing the doors on March 17 as the province imposed several measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Peninsula residents whose family doctors work in one of the facilities can book phone appointments online, while walk-in patients without a family doctor can phone to book.
This system has led to 40,261 patient appointments over the phone between mid-March and Aug. 24, including 4,822 in-person visits. Waiting times for attached patients — patients with family doctors through Shoreline Medical — have not changed since COVID-19, said Walker. Patients requiring immediate attention can continue to receive such treatment, but not necessarily by their own family doctor.
Walk-in patients, however, face different circumstances, starting with the general point that tele-health is not the most effective response to acute issues. “It’s not an ideal system. But until we have dealt with the attachment problem and provided in our community with an attached doctor, walk-ins are going to be a way of life.”
Waiting times for walk-in patients also differ and not just on Saanich Peninsula. “Walk-in clinics have to be very aware of the risks and most of them did transfer to tele-health as well,” said Walker.
Under the current walk-in system, patients call to set up a tele-health appointment first.
“And if it is deemed that you need to be seen, you could be in to see a physician face-to-face within 24 hours,” said Walker. “With of all the constraints that COVID-19 has put on the medical community, this is the safest and best protocol that we have. But I know that is not addressing the need that is out there.”
That is where call volumes come into play. Walker said staff are constantly monitoring call levels and have worked to improve response capacities.
“But no business can deal with that call volume effectively,” she said. Would-be walk-in patients may find themselves frustrated and Walker is asking for patience and understanding.
Walker is urging attached patients to book their appointments online. Patients asking for referral for specialized care should also contact specialists directly.
“We need to free the phone lines for the people who are trying to get in with immediate, same-day urgent issues,” she said. “If you have a tele-health appointment booked with a physician be sure to answer blocked calls or disable any feature that redirects those types of calls.”
The goal is open to gradually, she said. “But to be able to say a date when we would go to pre-COVID, I don’t think that will happen until COVID is over. Nobody can say when that is.”
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