Coronavirus prompts OMA to ‘urgently’ ask doctors to join virtual medicine network

The Ontario Medical Association says it and the provincial government are “urgently” encouraging physicians to join the province’s telemedicine network as the coronavirus spreads.

Among a range of online services, the network enables conference calls, similar to Skype or FaceTime, and allows doctors to, in certain circumstances, assess patients virtually, regardless of whether someone uses a phone or computer. 

“We believe it will be very important should we enter a pandemic phase of COVID-19,” Dr. Sohail Gandhi, president of the OMA, tells CBC News.

Telemedicine has the potential to help keep people and doctors from going into public spaces and ultimately limiting the spread of the virus.

Doctors are starting to embrace video-conferencing with patients as the coronavirus spreads.

Ed Brown, the CEO of the Ontario Telemedicine Network, says the medical professionals triage each person.

“They screen you, assess your risks, assess how sick you are, how sick you look,” he tells CBC News.

“Anybody who gets a fever or cough worries they have the illness … the vast majority aren’t ill [with the virus]. If you don’t have to go out to a hospital or waiting room that’s ideal.”

He adds this would be the first time the OTN has operated on this scale. Ever since the OMA started propping up the network to doctors, Brown says more physicians are joining.

“14,000 physicians are signed up at the moment,” he says, adding that 25 more doctors joined on Tuesday thanks to the OMA.

Brown says OTN was in its infancy when SARS spread and the network has never been used at this magnitude before.

And there’s still work to be done.

“We still need a lot of direction from the province about how they make this work [and] what their response plan is,” he says.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struck a new cabinet committee to co-ordinate Canada’s response to COVID-19 on Wednesday.

The total coronavirus cases in Canada is 33 as of Wednesday afternoon with no reported deaths.

Globally, there are 93,164 cases of COVID-19 and 3,199 deaths, according to WHO on Wednesday.

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