A new service is now available in our province that allows Manitobans to have a virtual appointment with a physician.
It is called QDoc and it was co-founded by Dr. Norm Silver and David Berkowits. In the words of Dr. Silver, through QDoc they have "uberized medical care."
The way it works is that a patient visits the QDoc website and then clicks on SEE A DOCTOR NOW. With multiple doctors using the system, the most appropriate one will be notified and moments later a video appointment takes place between the patient and physician. Then, after the appointment, the physician will take care of whatever else is required including writing a prescription to a pharmacy, sending lab requisitions or requesting an X-ray.
Dr. Silver says this service is geared towards episodic care, or in other words, that scenario where you wake up in the morning and something does not quite feel right. He notes this is not really intended for chronic care or ailments that need to be managed over multiple visits. It is also not a recommended option where an emergency room is required such as after a motor vehicle collision or in the case of chest pains or a broken arm. He notes 95 per cent of their patients do not need to be seen in person, but can be dealt with virtually.
Following the appointment, a summary of the visit is sent to the patient's primary care provider.
"We think it's very important so that their primary health care providers know everything about their health care journey," notes Dr. Silver.
Not all Manitobans have a family doctor. However, Dr. Silver assures those using QDoc, that they will never be left out in the cold after a visit. He notes QDoc doctors are told to never leave a patient if that individual does not know where they are going to get their followup. Or, in the case where someone uses QDoc who should rather have gone to an emergency room, the QDoc physician has been instructed to call the emergency department to let them know that a patient is on their way.
As long as you have a Manitoba Health card, there is no fee for using the QDoc service. Dr. Silver says it is no different than seeing a physician at a regular clinic. He notes QDoc bills the provincial government on behalf of its doctors.
As of earlier this month, QDoc has 37 doctors from across Manitoba in its system, with a goal of growing to between 100 and 150 doctors. Dr. Silver says these are the same doctors you see at the largest hospitals in our province.
"Every one of our doctors are connected with another clinic somewhere," he explains. "Not one of our doctors does this exclusively."
When a patient clicks SEE A DOCTOR NOW, the crop of physicians within the QDoc system is notified. The first doctors to be alerted are those who might be most appropriate for the patient. For example, if there is a child needing a doctor in Southern Health, their first attempt might be to reach a pediatrician from that area. However, if none are available or if the call is not answered within five minutes, QDoc will escalate to a larger group of physicians until either the call is taken or is put on a wait list, which can happen occasionally.
"We try to get everyone seen, our goal is five minutes," says Dr. Silver, who says he knows that about 80 per cent of children are seen within five minutes and nearly all of them within 30 minutes.
Dr. Silver explains that physicians in their system can work whenever they want. For example, if one of their doctors has some free time, they can make themselves available, taking on patients when it suits their schedule. Dr. Silver says some of their physicians are seeing between 20 and 30 patients a day. He notes in August alone, QDoc took care of 1,252 patients. Dr. Silver says 285 of those had a postal code within the Southern Health region.
"It's definitely a higher proportion in the Steinbach area than in the rest of the province at this point," says Dr. Silver.
Right now Winnipeg makes up about 60 per cent of Manitoba's population. Yet, Dr. Silver says only about 24 per cent of their patient volume is from Manitoba's capital.
"The need is far greater outside of Winnipeg in the rural areas than it is in the city," he says.
Dr. Silver notes doctors in Steinbach, for example, are extremely busy and can not be expected to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He suggests it is probably difficult to see a doctor in Steinbach because of a lack of physicians and notes that is where QDoc can help. In fact, Dr. Silver believes QDoc can assist the provincial government in helping determine where there might be a doctor shortage and where physician resources are most needed.
Dr. Silver says QDoc has taken off at a more rapid pace than he had expected, noting on average they are growing by 50 per cent per month. He notes the goal is to make QDoc available across Canada, but stresses that they do not intend to replace primary care physicians. Rather he says they want to support family practice and general practice physicians, helping the system where there are gaps.