Health care workers say there is growing concern at a group of medical clinics in Surrey that fear of COVID-19 – or the misconception that clinics have closed because of it – is keeping people from seeing a doctor.
“It is clear that many people think that the clinics are closed,” said Tom Yearwood, founder and CEO of Denning Health Group, which manages five medical centres in Surrey and two in Abbotsford. “We are very concerned that people are going without needed care.”
In fact, Yearwood says, three of the five clinics his company manages in Surrey are seeing patients, and all of them are doing telephone and/or virtual care.
Dr. Leonid Vinnitsky works at Central City Medical Clinic in Surrey. He says he wants to let residents know that patients who need to see a doctor still have that option.
|Dr. Leonid Vinnitsky works at Central City Medical Clinic in Surrey. (Photo submitted)|
“It’s important that everyone in the community knows that we are open and we can see people face to face,” he said, adding that many people are genuinely surprised when they are call in and find out they can see a doctor. “We are trying to provide this message to the community – we are open.”
Dr. Vinnitsky said that message is especially important in a time when Surrey Memorial Hospital’s emergency needs to be freed up as much as possible.
And for patients who don’t necessarily need to physically see a doctor, virtual care has become common across the province since COVID-19 broke out. The increased use of virtual care allows patients to receive medical care from their own doctor while practicing physical distancing or self-isolation.
Earlier this month, TELUS announced that it is enabling 26,000 of its physician customers to conduct secure virtual visits directly through their electronic medical records (EMRs) platforms. The new feature allows physicians to book appointments and conduct video consultations with their patients within the same platform they are already using to manage their patient records.
TELUS said the virtual care feature is being offered to physicians free of charge for the first four months to help support their efforts in managing patient care during the pandemic.
Dr. Vinnitsky said about one-third, if not more, of treatments done at his clinic are done using telephone or video.
“We can do a lot things over the phone,” said Dr. Vinnitsky. “But unfortunately, certain things cannot be done, like injections or vaccinations.”
For those patients who have to come in, fear of COVID-19 may cause them hesitation.
While the clinic has seen several patients with suspected symptoms, Trish Dafoe, Central City Medical Clinic manager, said every precaution is being taken to keep staff and patients safe.
She said all staff are equipped with the necessary personal protective equipment and the clinics also have a screening process in place to reduce the risk.
“We’re washing down doorknobs, we’re washing down beds and giving deep cleans to all our rooms. We’re constantly cleaning and we all have our PPE’s,” Dafoe said.
The Surrey-North Delta and the White Rock South Surrey Divisions of Family Practice are also reporting that many of its family doctors say a record low number of patients are making appointments, likely because people are unaware that family physicians are providing care.
Tomas Reyes is executive director of the Surrey-North Delta Division of Family Practice, which is made up of more than 400 physicians at various career stages, 40 resident doctors and 200 medical office assistants. He said a common goal is to ensure that primary care remains accessible to all patients, including those without a family doctor.
“Both divisions in White Rock-South Surrey and Surrey-North Delta have been working hard in collaboration with Fraser Health and other partners, on strategies to support and enable our physician members to respond to the COVID-19 emergency effectively and to continue providing health care services to the residents in our communities under these challenging circumstances,” said Reyes.
Nancy Mathias is executive director of the White Rock-South Surrey Division of Family Practice.
“We want the people of Surrey, South Surrey, North Delta and White Rock to know that if they need non-emergency medical care, their family physician is still the best person to contact, and for residents with no family doctor, we have options to support them as well.”