As many as one-quarter of Quebecers do not have a family doctor. And even if you’re lucky enough to have one, it isn’t always easy to get an appointment. Thankfully, new apps and online services are emerging on the scene to try and make seeing a doctor as easy as calling a taxi or booking a flight.
Two made-in-Canada medical apps, in particular, are becoming popular in the Montreal area, Tap Medical and goEvisit. Both are available on Apple and Android and are free to download and use, with appointment fees covered by a patient’s provincial health care plan.
Tap Medical (tapmedical.ca), founded by Montreal surgeon Tsafrir Vanounou, helps patients find an appointment with a doctor, specialist or paramedical specialist such as a physiotherapist or massage therapist.
Instead of waiting on hold for the receptionist to book an appointment, patients can see a list of available appointments online, and can select the booking that suits their schedule. The database currently includes only Montreal-area clinics and hospitals, but Vanounou said the list is expanding into outlying areas too, such as Lac St. Jean and Laval. His goal is to grow the list of participating clinics within Quebec and then expand across Canada.
As a physician himself, Vanounou said he designed the platform to prioritize consistency of care. Patients with no family doctor, or who can’t get a timely appointment with their family doctor, can search a list of clinics offering walk-in and emergency care. Patients can also search for medical specialists.
Vanounou, who is also an assistant professor at McGill’s Gerald Bronfman Department of Oncology, said he hadn’t intended on entering the app-development business. But after hearing so many of his patients complain about the difficulty they had booking appointments and finding specialists, he decided to step in and fill the need.
“We want this to be a clearing house for health care so Montrealers only have to go to one site to find what they need,” Vanounou said. “We’re trying to build a health care hub.”
For patients with minor illnesses, online medical consultations are also becoming a popular option. In Montreal, families can use goEvisit (goevisit.com) to consult a licensed medical practitioner without ever leaving home. Consultations take place over the phone, Skype or FaceTime.
According to Chief Operating Officer Liz Bryant, the service doesn’t replace a relationship with a family doctor, but it does provide near-instant access to care for episodic illnesses that can be safely and effectively treated using virtual practice guidelines.
“Seventy per cent of people in ERs in Canada don’t need to be there, but they have nowhere else to go,” Bryant said. “It’s not that people want to sit there, it’s that they don’t have a family doctor or someone else to turn to when they’re ill.”
Unlike provincially run nurse lines like Quebec’s Info-Santé, which can only offer patients advice on how to treat the illness at home, goEvisit’s doctors can diagnose and prescribe medication or other treatment.
Bryant said this system can be used to diagnose and treat about 80 minor conditions, including acne, allergies, back pain, cold or flu, constipation, ear/eye infections, headache, pink eye, rash, sore throat, stomach ache and vomiting.
Doctors will first assess if a patient’s condition can be diagnosed without an in-person consultation. If so, they may recommend home remedies, over-the-counter medication or prescribe antibiotics or other medication. If a prescription is required, goEvisit’s doctors can send it to the patient’s pharmacy of choice or arrange for it to be mailed the following business day. The service cannot be used to obtain a prescription for controlled drugs such as opiates or medical marijuana.
An upgrade to the system coming in May will expand the list of treatable conditions to more than 300 illnesses. Bryant said all medical information provided to the service is stored in Ontario in a private cloud network, and all providers must comply with federal and provincial regulations, including the Canada Health Act.
Bryant noted that goEvisit has a 97 per cent satisfaction rate among patients, and is extremely popular in Quebec. She said about a quarter of callers in any given month are coming from la belle province. “This a wonderful alternative for caring for minor illnesses without having to access a family doctor,” Bryant said.