Nova Scotia Health, EHS partnership helps keep rural emergency departments open

Nova Scotia Health’s Eastern Zone and Emergency Health Services (EHS) are partnering to provide virtual physician support to some rural emergency departments within the zone.

Virtual physician support is currently used on a trial basis at two sites in the zone - Buchanan Memorial Community Health Centre in Neil’s Harbour and Eastern Memorial Hospital in Canso. It is used only when the number of physicians available in a community is limited for extended periods of time.

When virtual physician support is in use, patients coming to the emergency department between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. are triaged by a nurse. For patients with less severe injury/illness, the nurse calls the EHS Medical Communications Centre Physician (MCCP) for a virtual consultation. For patients with more severe injury or illness, the local on-call physician comes to the emergency department. Emergencies and ambulances still go to the department.

“In our zone, using virtual physician support is an innovative approach to keeping our rural emergency departments open when you have a small number of physicians available,” said Angela MacArthur, director of integrated health – rural hospitals with Nova Scotia Health’s Eastern Zone. “This model allows us to support our physicians, keep our emergency departments open and provide care closer to home for people.”

Virtual physician support allows both EHS and Nova Scotia Health to use existing resources to continue to provide service in rural communities instead of needing to close the emergency department.

“The EHS MCCP team provides 24/7 support to the EHS system with regards to complex clinical decision-making and treatment pathways, so this partnership is a natural extension of that resource,” said Dr. Andrew Travers, EHS Provincial Medical Director. “It’s important for people to have access to urgent care in the community, so being able to work with the local health care team and provide virtual physician support to them is a good way to do that.”

Initial feedback on the model has been positive. MacArthur said a more formal evaluation of the model will be done in the coming months.