One company thinks it has a solution to rural doctor shortages

Starting next month one of the local doctor’s offices in town will be closing, leaving approximately 2,000 people without a family physician.

A month after that another office will close leaving thousands more in the same predicament.

As Merritt braces for this doctor shortage, a Toronto-based telemedicine company known as MedviewMD says it’s interested in installing its equipment at pharmacies in town. Doing so would connect patients with doctors or nurse practitioners located in either B.C. or Ontario via video conference in order to conduct routine medical checkups and physicals.

Founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of MedviewMD, Dan Nead, told the Herald his company is reaching out to members of the medical community in town regarding their services.

“If it’s something that’s routine, like an ear infection or strep throat or something like that, we have the technology that allows the physician or the [nurse practitioner] that’s video-conferenced-in logistically to make that assessment,” Nead said.

Patients enter a room in a pharmacy set up with a computer and TV monitor to video chat with a doctor. A registered nurse is on hand at the pharmacy to assist with the checkup.

With the help of the nurse, patients have their vital signs such as their blood pressure and temperature taken and sent via computer to the doctor, who can view the inside of a patient’s ears, nose and throat via computer thanks to an otoscope with a camera attached.

“The patient actually sees the inside of their ear, quite likely for the first time, and that is truly meaningful. That’s a game changer, because you’re just not taking someone’s word for it — you’re seeing it in front of you,” Nead said. “It appears right on screen; it’s a visual.”

He said MedviewMD can store these photos for a patient’s records and future checkups.

The doctor can also listen to a patient’s breathing and heartbeat in real time using an electronic stethoscope and headphones.

Doctors advise the patients and can give prescriptions.

Two pharmacies in neighbouring Kamloops are opening MedviewMD studios next month.

Kleo Dimopoulos, owner of Kleo’s Pharmacy Remedy’s RX in Kamloops, will have his studio up and running in April.

Dimopoulos told the Herald his community needs this type of service, and while he doesn’t know if this will be a permanent solution to doctor shortages in B.C., he thinks it may be the way of the future.

“Obviously there’s a lot of orphan patients that are in Kamloops and [the] Kamloops area, and they don’t have doctors. They rely on the walk-ins or the ER [emergency room] to get their prescriptions filled,” Dimopoulos said. “This is another choice that they have and hopefully [will] alleviate some of the stress on the clinics and on the ER.”

Dimopoulos said that he is leasing the equipment from MedviewMD, which supplies the physicians and nurses. He said the benefit to offering this service for his pharmacy is that it can essentially be a one-stop shop, offering people a place to get a checkup and have their prescriptions filled.

“We’re bringing the physicians to Kamloops via technology,” Dimopoulos said.

Merritt may follow suit.

Danielle and Blaine Martens, pharmacists and part owners of Black’s Pharmacy in Merritt confirmed they have been in contact with MedviewMD regarding the possibility of offering the service. However, accommodating the equipment would require a renovation to the pharmacy.

“We’ve inquired about it, because when we saw that Kamloops was doing it, it was like, hey we need to do that here,” Danielle said, adding that they haven’t come to a decision yet.

Blaine said that offering this service would meet a need in the community, but the required renovation to their store would be a major investment to make.

He told the Herald that with the current number of doctors in town, most people have been able to get appointments on short notice, making this type of investment on their part unnecessary if more doctors are recruited to Merritt in the near future.

“I think if the two physicians leave and they’re not replaced then there certainly would be enough demand,” Blaine said.

He said he’s not sure this type of service is needed yet in the community and believes the demand for it wouldn’t present itself for about another six months.

“If the timing is right and there isn’t a physician recruited in time for the demand of the population, it would definitely be something that we would consider,” Blaine said.

The renovation would require providing a 100 square foot room for doctor appointments.

Blaine said that he thinks the best scenario for the town would be to have more doctors physically working in town.

“There [are] barriers to this video doctoring thing as well,” Blaine said. “You don’t develop a rapport with this doctor,” he said.

Pharmasave, Extra Foods and Walmart are the only other pharmacy locations in town.