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Posted: August 19, 2020

Cranbrook Virtual Walk-in Clinic still operational

The EK Division of Family Practice, led by community physicians, established the Cranbrook Virtual Walk-in clinic for patients without a family physician, in response to the new virus threats in April.

The goal was to support patients without a family physician with their primary care needs, including possible COVID-19 symptoms, which prevented patients from going to the Emergency Department unnecessarily.

Megan Purcell, Executive Director for the EK Division, gives an overview of the process. “On April 10, the EK Division launched the Cranbrook Virtual Walk-In Clinic for patients without a family doctor. Dr. Tracey Parnell worked with us as the clinic’s lead physician to quickly help set up the clinic.”

The EK Division office was transformed to house the virtual support staff, and Dr. Parnell supplied the electronic medical record. We had numerous physicians step forward to help staff the clinic, and we launched it with only a couple of weeks of preparation.

“The clinic began by being open seven days a week from 1 – 5 p.m.” Purcell continued. “In addition to Dr. Parnell, nine physicians from Cranbrook and Kimberley have supported the clinic by taking on shifts on a diminishing schedule as the virus threat slowly eased through the summer.”

Purcell describes how patients access service. “Patients have the option to either call the clinic or access a video platform through our Division website. Their calls are answered and screened by a medical office assistant who then connects them with the doctor.”

When asked if she believes the clinic was successful in meeting the community’s initial needs, Purcell had this to say: “I believe that we were successful in quickly mobilizing a service that could divert patients without a family physician away from the ER for non-emergent issues, should the pandemic increase demand at the hospital. The physician community has been extremely supportive, and the Ministry funding has helped us sustain the clinic to continuing filling a gap in the community for patients without a family physician.”

“In retrospect,” she explained, “the impact of COVID was not as significant this spring as we expected when we first set up the clinic. At that time, we were looking at Italy and preparing for the worst. It was amazing how the physicians came together to support patients who needed care but couldn’t be absorbed into the existing clinics, which are all experiencing shortages of family doctors. We had retired physicians, as well as some who don’t normally practice family medicine, come forward and help. The Division was able to be the central organizer and we used our office as the virtual headquarters.”

Purcell says they heard from numerous patients how much they appreciate having this service, which helps them avoid going to the ER for non-emergent issues. The clinic is filling the gap for many people not able to find a family doctor during the current shortage.

Since the clinic’s launch, the number of people with COVID-like symptoms has been less than what was anticipated in the East Kootenay, leaving capacity to address other primary care issues for unattached patients.

Currently, call volume remains low with an average of three calls per day. The Ministry of Health has provided funding to continue operating the clinic one day per week, (Tuesdays from 1-5 p.m.), staffed by local family physicians and a medical office assistant, until August 31.

At that time, the ministry will re-assess the ongoing need for the virtual clinic in providing care to unattached patients in Cranbrook, and the likelihood of a second wave of COVID-19 cases. This is welcome news given the current physician shortfall currently being addressed.

The EK Division expects this service to help support those patients until new physicians are recruited.

To Reach the Walk-in Virtual Clinic email: [email protected] or call 250-426-4890.

EK Division of Family Practice

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