In the midst of the novel COVID-19 spreading around the world and bringing bad news, the pandemic has also brought about a lot of radical changes in people’s day to day lives.
One notable change that the strict social distancing rules led to was the health-care system turning virtual.
Even though the concept of telemedicine isn’t a new one, the popularity it gained recently has been immense.
“The biggest advantage we have with virtual care is that the patient still has the peace of mind that they can be attended by their own family doctor, but they don’t have to come out of their houses to get themselves exposed to Corona,” said Dr. Shazia Rahim, a family physician at Martindale Medical Clinic.
Most of the clinical care appointments across the country and in Calgary have become virtual post-pandemic, in order to safely treat patients.
“In the beginning, we basically had cut off any access to the clinic for patients who had any of the symptoms like cough, fever, sore throat, shortness of breath, anything like that,” said Daniyya Chaudhry, medical office assistant at Oasis Medical Centre.
“Throughout this time, we had to do what was best for us and we decided to try virtual meetings with the doctor for patients,” said Chaudhry.
An additional boost was given to virtual health care on May 3, 2020, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government will be investing $240.5 million to develop, expand, and launch virtual care and mental health tools to support Canadians.
While it hasn’t been easy for doctors or patients to adjust to the new system, it has proven to be an efficient way to avoid crowded waiting areas and thus the chances of getting infected.
“They [patients] were a bit hesitant at first, they were not very comfortable in the expression,” said Dr. Rahim.
“In the first two weeks, it was not that easy, neither for us nor for them because having a physical examination of the patients and just listening to the complaints are two entirely different things.”
With gradual and increased comfort among both doctors and patients, things started running more smoothly in April, according to Dr. Rahim.
“I didn’t really understand how a virtual appointment would feel like at first,” said Fatima Khan, a resident of Calgary.
“I felt confused and awkward in explaining the problems I was dealing with over a phone call, but at the same time hospital was the last place I wanted to be in,” said Khan.
Dr. Rahim feels that it is unfair to draw a comparison between virtual and physical contact because the findings that a doctor can have on a physical examination cannot be compared to a virtual one.
“A lot of patients were very kind and they were grateful for the work that the doctor and the other worker in the clinic had still been doing,” said Chaudhry.
“Some people were affected by the virtual option because they felt like their health care cannot be done to the best extent as it was before.”
But 95 per cent of the patients, according to Chaudhry, understood the circumstances and were nice about it.
Since Oasis Medical Center was still providing in-clinic appointments to some patients, a change in behaviour related to cleanliness was seen as well.
“I think that’s a big thing,” said Chaudhry.
“A lot of people were just more mindful of being clean and being in a clean area and cleaning up after themselves as well.”
The clinic also implemented measures to protect the staff, such as glass shields in front of the office and the use of masks and gloves.
“We had a PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] available all the time,” said Chaudhry.
Dr. Rahim appreciated how Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, kept everyone updated daily.
Despite the huge shift in healthcare, the human component remains the same.
“I am happy to see that our community is also a very accommodating and learning community,” said Dr. Rahim. “We take up new things easily, and that is a good thing in this pandemic.”