Even in rural settings, where the image of a courtly country doctor making a house call may still come to mind, routine health-care delivery is increasingly becoming an online experience.
That reality was highlighted Wednesday at Kakabeka Falls’ Highway 11 medical clinic, which has been equipped to tutor patients — especially those in the senior-age bracket — on the finer points of using a computer tablet.
“You can go online to order a prescription or check the results of a blood test,” noted NorWest Community Health Centres chief executive officer Juanita Lawson.
The Thunder Bay-based health agency collectively cares for more than 10,000 patients at its clinics in the city’s south core, Kakabeka Falls, Longlac and Armstrong.
Last year, the centre received a $100,000 provincial grant so it could hire a digital expert and provide tablet devices at some of its clinics.
Thunder Bay–Atikokan MPP Kevin Holland, who was on hand for Wednesday’s demonstration in Kakabeka Falls, commented: “Digital literacy is the key that unlocks a world of opportunities and connects individuals to vital information and services.”
The health centres’ tablets can’t be loaned out. Any tutoring takes place at the clinics.
Once patients become adept at using a computer device, they have the option of receiving medical advice from a doctor or nurse practitioner over a Zoom call, for instance.
That’s particularly handy for rural Thunder Bay residents who could be snowed-in during winter storms, Lawson said.
“If you don’t really need an in-person visit, we can offer you a virtual one,” added Lawson, who noted that option was often exercised during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Booking or cancelling medical appointments online can also reduce the load for intake staffers, who field about 900 telephone calls per day alone at the NorWest Community Health Centres’ office on Thunder Bay’s Simpson Street, Lawson said.
The province started its digital-based health care strategy in 2019, before the pandemic took hold in Ontario.
At that time, the Ministry of Health said it had earmarked $3 million to facilitate 55,000 video-based sessions between doctors and patients.