Vancouver Islanders reminded their doctor is still there for them

Most physicians treating patients by phone or online as they social distance in the face of COVID-19

Your doctors are still available to help you, Vancouver Islanders.

It’s just that they are looking for a higher degree of patience, co-operation and space than you are used to in the face of the ongoing efforts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a message that’s being echoed from Oak Bay to Port Alice, Dr. Julia Hickey Somerville of Parksville Medical Clinic wants the public to know doctor’s clinics are still in service.

RELATED: Doctor concerned about COVID-19 ‘overpowering’ Island’s health-care system

“We are concerned that many of our patients are unaware that we are still open and available to help them,” said Somerville. “Patients can still call to book appointments as they would normally, however your doctor will then ‘visit’ you via a telephone call. We are finding most problems can be dealt with in this fashion, keeping patients out of waiting rooms and urgent care.”

Shawna Walker, executive director of Shoreline Medical Services, a non-profit foundation operating clinics in Sidney and Brentwood Bay points out that while the clinics remain physically closed, they are open’ in the sense that physicians will continue to provide medical care by phone or online. She said these new measures — which eliminate in-person visits for now — help reduce exposure to COVID-19 for all patients and staff.

“We are open, just using a different model of care to provide physician-patient visits,” Walker said. “It’s vitally important that we all play our part in helping to flatten the curve of this epidemic by following government advice and observing social distancing.”

Physicians in individual Island communities have organized themselves to respond to the COVID-19 crisis as it evolves, and to provide the public with accurate and timely information.

“We want to make sure that doctors — and other primary-care providers including midwives and nurse practitioners — and their teams stay healthy so that they can continue to look after you,” the Cowichan Valley Division of Family Practice and the Cowichan District Medical Society said in a media release.

RELATED: 55 healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in B.C.

“To delay the spread of COVID-19, we are reducing face-to-face contacts. In many cases this will mean using phone calls and online assessments and follow ups. All physicians are able to provide effective care in this way and will ensure the patient is brought to the office for an examination when needed. By cutting down on the number of face-to-face visits, we are also using social distancing by minimizing the number of patients in the waiting room.”

For patients who have stable chronic disease, the physicians said they may encourage them to consider delaying any non-urgent lab work to decrease their need to go to the laboratory. They may also lengthen prescription supplies to lower their patients’ need to go the drug store.

“If you become unwell or your disease becomes unstable then you should contact your clinic,” the physicians said. “Do not drop in to your doctor’s office. You may well be turned away. It is best to call ahead, or make contact first through other channels such as email or through online portals as they become available.

“A reminder to employers that it’s time to stop asking your employees for sick notes for self-limiting illness, including those who develop a mild form of coronavirus. In many cases doctors will refuse to offer them.”

Walker said is not clear yet when the clinics will physically re-open.

“Right now, Shoreline physicians are working with other community physicians and Island Health to prepare for centralized community clinics where in-person patient exams [and] treatment can be done for patients who need them,” she said. “These community clinics will assist in reducing the amount of exposure to COVID-19 for patients, physicians and support staff.”

“I am hoping this information will give people some peace of mind during these confusing and trying times,” said Somerville. “Their family doctor is still here for them.” 

RELATED: How B.C. emptied its hospitals to prepare for COVID-19

Contact your regular health care provider by phone or online for more information.

If you are concerned you might have COVID-19

The physicians said doctors get new information regularly, including the latest screening guidelines.

“If you develop symptoms, call your family doctor and you can often be managed at home,” they said. “You can also use the BC COVID-19 Self-Assessment tool which you can complete for yourself, or on behalf of someone else if they are unable, to. Those who should be tested for COVID-19 are those with respiratory symptoms who are hospitalized or likely to be hospitalized, health-care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, and those who are part of an investigation of a cluster or outbreak.”

People who develop a cough, congestion or fever must are asked to assume they have a COVID-19 infection and must self-isolate for 14 days, but shouldn’t panic or immediately seek medical attention. A positive test for COVID-19 does not change treatment for it and most infected people will only develop a mild respiratory infection and will recover within two weeks.

“If you become more unwell, then this is the time to contact your family doctor. If you are unclear, then please do contact your family doctor.”

The physicians said people should not to go to the hospital’s emergency room for testing, and that they should only go to the emergency room if they are experiencing a medical emergency.

The physicians said that with no known cure or vaccine for COVID-19, preventing transmission is absolutely critical at this stage.

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— with files from Black Press

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