Alberta doctors ‘beyond frustrated’ with virtual care app amid coronavirus crisis

One day after the government of Alberta announced an app that would connect people to a doctor virtually, family physicians are voicing their frustrations.

On Thursday, the province announced the Babylon app would be offered through an alternative relationship plan (ARP) between the Alberta government and TELUS.

The government said the app is meant to supplement existing services. A spokesperson also stressed the province is hearing calls from doctors to better support virtual care and a plan is in the works with more details to be announced soon.

The Babylon app is not available to all Alberta physicians. In fact, it’s a relatively small project (with an annual budget of $1.5 million) that only involves a small group of doctors.

“I am beyond frustrated at this,” Dr. Heather Shonoski, a physician in Peace River, wrote in a letter shared on Facebook.

“Family physicians have been begging the health minister to allow us to provide virtual care to our patients so that we can keep our vulnerable patients at home and promote social distancing. We want to be able to provide high quality care even if our patients or ourselves are in self-isolation.”

After hearing about Babylon, Shonoski said doctors at her clinic called TELUS to ask about using it. They were told they cannot see their own patients through the platform and that it serves as a virtual walk-in, she said.

“We want to be able to see our own patients in our own critically under-served rural community where we know our local resources.

“We want to provide continuity of care, which has been proven to save lives and minimize resource use… If we could see our own patients we could do our own follow-up or arrange cross-coverage with proper handover to a colleague in our own community. This would minimize the risk of medical error.”

Shonoski said health-care workers are preparing for increased demands in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re also trying to find ways to keep patients and health-care workers safe, including providing patient care over the phone or through other video-chat and remote methods.

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