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Online doctors, virtual health care available to military families

By Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Thursday April 8, 2021

Some military families go entire postings without having access to a local doctor, finding themselves using the local hospitals or driving to Ottawa for basic medical treatment.

It is estimated that over 24,000 people in Renfrew County - military or not - have found themselves without a family doctor. As more doctors retire or move out of the area, it is believed that an additional 20,000 patients will soon be orphaned.

So what can be done for military families moving in and those still looking for care? Virtual health care is an option.

The Petawawa Military Family Resource Centre (PMFRC) invited representatives from Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services (CFMWS) to explain how people can use these online services to meet their medical needs.

Even before the pandemic, Canadians were open to virtual care, confirmed Todd Stride, CFMWS Program Director. And since the start of the pandemic, about 47 per cent of people have used an online doctor.

“A virtual visit can’t do everything that a medical practitioner can do in a face to face visit but it certainly has its advantages,” said Stride.

CFMWS has made MAPLE virtual care available and free for military families with a valid CFOne card. They also recommend the “see the doctor” website if people only have the Ontario Health Card.

With MAPLE, some patients have been able to see a doctor in as little as five minutes.

“For simple things like prescription renewals, specialist referrals, lab requisition, families can get immediate help,” said Stride. “So I think the time and efficiency of the program works really well.”

Feedback for these virtual programs has been very positive.

“We are at a 96 per cent satisfactory rate and we are at 1,100 visits so far,” said Chad Phinney, Policy Development and Research Manager at CFWMS. “At this point in time, families are really enjoying it.”

The lack of doctors and walk-in clinics has been a point of contention for many moving into the area. The PMFRC cannot do much about it on its own. They do work collaboratively with community partners, but they are not a medical centre.

“But we advocate with our service providers about the unique challenges that our military families encounter,” said PMFRC Executive Director Claudia Beswick.

Virtual care, however, is more of a stopgap as people wait for a doctor to accept them as patients.

To maximize the chance of connecting with a health care provider, people should contact local clinics on their own while using Health Care Connect (HCC) once they receive an Ontario Health Card. This will augment their chances of getting a doctor as some places aren’t connected to HCC and wait for new patients to approach them.

People with children under 18 can approach the Petawawa Centennial Family Health Centre to receive care from a Nurse Practitioner for their child. The only requirements are that they live within the town and that they are a member of a military family.

The websites for virtual health care are for all Ontarians and for all military families.