Virtual physicians help keep Dawson Creek’s Emergency Room open

A hospital’s Emergency Room was able to stay open, thanks to the work of Real-Time Virtual Support (RTVS) physicians.

Doctors from the Emergency RUDi (Rural Urgent Doctor in-aid) pathway have just wrapped up a 10-shift stint in Dawson Creek where they provided support to nurses working night shifts.

The RUDi physicians, who were patched in over Zoom through the RTVS pathways offered by the Rural Coordination Centre of BC (RCCbc), were able to assist the nurses on duty with various emergencies, including leg injuries, chest pain, and mental health concerns. Doctors were on call in the community, but none were scheduled to be at the hospital.

This is similar work to what RUDi physicians have been doing in other rural, remote, and Indigenous communities where there is not normally a doctor present.

Dr. Brydon Blacklaws, the co-lead of the RUDi pathway, said: “Many places, including Dawson Creek, have had issues with recruitment and retention of doctors. The summer is usually even more of a challenge than the rest of the year because people take much-needed vacation. We’re extremely pleased that RUDi could provide a temporary solution in Dawson Creek and prevent patients from being diverted to Fort St. John.”

Dr. Blacklaws, who worked some of the shifts from his home in Powell River, said the shifts went well.

“The technology that is now available makes it much easier for us to connect virtually with the nurses and patients. We can have a conversation with the nurse, and try to figure out the solution together. We can also speak with the patient, get additional information, and offer face-to-face reassurance, if needed.

“The nurses on the ground are the true heroes in this situation. If it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t do this. We’re grateful to have so many hard-working healthcare providers in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities.”

Dr. John Pawlovich, the virtual health lead for RCCbc said: “Virtual health is integral to reducing health inequity in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

“But we should be clear that virtual physicians aren’t a replacement for on-the-ground physicians in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities. Rather, they’re an additional and important tool.

“RTVS connects rural, remote, and Indigenous practitioners in their local communities with support from virtual physicians who understand rural and remote communities. In the long run, this decreases isolation and stress, improves practitioner recruitment and retention, and strengthens interprofessional and collegial relationships.

“The virtual care from RTVS also enables patients in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities to access timely, appropriate care, virtually, closer to home, reducing the risk, time, and expense involved in traveling for care.”

In addition to the RUDi pathway, virtual physicians are available for Critical Care (ROSe), Pediatrics (CHARLiE), and Maternity and Newborn (MaBAL). There are also six quick reply pathways covering dermatology, rheumatology, thrombosis, myofascial pain, post-COVID-19 recovery referral, and hematology.

For more information on the provider pathways that support rural, remote, and Indigenous communities, visit the RCCbc website.