When Debbie Smith’s daughter started having physical problems in late May, she took her to see her family doctor.
But Cole Harbour’s mother said their doctor was dismissive of the problem and they left frustrated with no solution. When her daughter’s health did not improve, Smith knew she had to do something.
“In my mommy mind, I saw her symptoms getting more extreme and I just wanted an answer for this poor girl,” Smith said.
After trying to get a place at a walk-in clinic where people lined up for admission from 5 p.m. to 3 p.m., Smith went online desperately looking for another solution.
She came across an app called Your doctors online. All she needed was a valid provincial health card, and this one claimed her daughter would be seen. Believing she had nothing to lose, she gave it a try.
“Within five minutes I was at a doctor’s,” Smith said.
After a 15 minute consultation, the doctor identified what she believed to be the problem and prescribed an antibiotic. Two hours later, he was ready to be picked up from his pharmacy.
“Within 15 minutes we had a resolution, and we were like, ‘This is amazing,'” Smith said.
“She quickly started having a decrease in her symptoms, and she had been dealing with this for months and months.”
Smith posted her story on a provincial Facebook group and was overwhelmed by the response. She heard from several people who, despite their family doctors, also felt rejected and had been unable to get help for their problems.
Many others with (and without) family doctors have reached out to thank her for informing them of another option beyond the emergency department. Others shared that they also used the app and posted their achievements online.
“The app kept us from going to the hospital because we were at the point where there was nowhere to go. They were there for us when the family doctor wasn’t there,” said Smith.
“And the walk-ins are almost impossible now to enter. It’s so bad. I just want people to know that there is hope and there is another place to go if you have something. This is another alternative and we need it. And it’s free.
Help fill a gap
Whereas Maple virtual care was an option for Smith, she couldn’t access it without paying a fee because it’s only covered by the province for those without a family doctor.
Last year, the provincial government made an arrangement with virtual care provider Maple to expand coverage across the province.
Nova Scotians on the Need A Family Practice Registry can access Maple, and it’s covered by Medicare Nova Scotia (MSI).
This virtual service ensures that patients without a primary care provider can meet with a doctor who can prescribe medications, order tests, refer to specialist care and offer in-person care options if and when warranted.
But for people who have a family doctor but can’t get to it in a timely manner (or have problems on weekends, holidays, or late at night) as well as those who want or need a another option, Smith thinks the app can help fill a gap.
“I want more people to be aware of this”
Before last long weekend, Nova Scotia Health again advised patients that “significant patient capacity and staffing challenges” would create longer than usual wait times in emergency departments and for emergency department admissions to emergency beds hospitals.
Yarmouth County resident Mona Doucette is familiar with the long waits in the emergency room for care.
“In rural Nova Scotia, this has been a part of our lives for more years than I can count,” Doucette said in an interview.
When Doucette started having pain in her left ear a few weekends ago, she knew it was an ear infection and it was going to get worse because she had had it for years. She didn’t want to wait six to 12 hours or more in a crowded emergency department, but had no other option to get the antibiotics she knew she needed.
While Doucette considers herself extremely lucky to have not only a family doctor but “one of the best outside of Halifax,” she couldn’t wait days for an appointment, nor could she access Maple virtual care free of charge.
As she prepared for a long wait at Yarmouth Regional Hospital, someone mentioned the Your Doctors Online app. She downloaded it and started. In less than 15 minutes, she said she was having a virtual conversation.
“They asked a lot of questions, so it was basically like a triage nurse asking questions like when you go to an outpatient clinic and you wait your turn,” Doucette said.
After speaking with a doctor and answering questions about her health, medical history and ear problem, the doctor told her she needed ear drops and a prescription for antibiotics and said that would be faxed to his pharmacy.
It all happened in less than an hour. When Doucette finished the call, she contacted her pharmacy to tell them to wait for the fax. He was told he had already arrived.
“After I finished, I said to my mother, ‘Why go to the emergency room for something as minor as this if there is another option? Why take a place when it is not necessary? Doucette said.
“It was so much easier. People who need prescriptions filled or those who have middle of the night or weekend events but don’t need it urgently could really benefit. It’s a really good system and I want more people to be aware of it.
In an emailed statement, the Department of Health and Wellness said the province was unaware of the Your Doctors Online company and had no arrangement with them.
“We advise Nova Scotians to be cautious when asked to provide their health card number to a third-party provider that is not affiliated with the province, Nova Scotia Health or Mediavie, in order to access a service,” spokeswoman Khalehla Perrault wrote.
“The Department of Health and Wellness will be reviewing this to better understand this service and how they are using MSI to receive payment, as Nova Scotians are not directly billed through their health card.”
‘Need all the help we can get’
The Halifax reviewer contacted Mississauga-based HealthATech Solutions Inc., the company behind the app, to find out more about its services. They haven’t provided anyone to answer our questions yet, but we’ll provide an update if they do.
According to Company Website, locations served include Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta, Texas, Michigan, California, Georgia and Texas. They say they have a diverse team of board-certified doctors available 24/7, including a team of Canadian doctors.
The website also says patients with a valid health card don’t pay to chat with a doctor and get 10 free chats a day. After that, they have to wait 24 hours or pay a $6 fee for the next consultation. Prescriptions and/or drug refills are also listed as free with a valid health card, as are lab requisitions.
The service does not provide prescriptions or refills for controlled medications and urges people to go to the emergency room if they need urgent care.
Doucette said that from her own experience she was “screaming from the rooftops” about the existence of the app as another alternative. She hopes others who don’t have access to Maple for free and don’t need to go to the emergency room will try the app and experience the same success as her.
“This is a valuable tool for Nova Scotians and I think a lot more people need to be made aware of the app and they (the government) need to look at this but also other things and more things like this one,” Doucette said.
“We need all the help we can get. For me it was perfectly 100% on top and top. And even if you’re not tech-savvy, if you have someone who can help you, that’s the easiest thing to do.
Subscribe to the Halifax Examiner
We have many other subscription options available, or send us a donation. Thanks!