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Thousands of people have used Nova Scotia’s mobile health system since it was launched in the fall.

At the first mobile health clinic set up in Sydney in the wake of post-tropical storm Fiona in September, around 40 people were treated each day, said program manager Dr Tara Sampalli of Nova Scotia Health.

“Once we started offering in the core area communities, we started to really reach 100 people a day and it’s been (a) similar experience so far across the province. People have become more aware of this access point and they really appreciate it.

The clinics include drop-in centers, which do not require appointments, intended to ease pressure from the emergency services for low-acuity primary care cases.

There are also mobile children’s respiratory clinics, in conjunction with IWK Health, and primary care clinics to address gaps in primary care services related to retiring physicians or newcomers to the province.

Dr. Tara Sampalli is the Senior Director of Global Health Systems Implementation Science, Evaluation and Planning for Nova Scotia Health.  - Screenshot
Dr. Tara Sampalli is the Senior Director of Global Health Systems Implementation Science, Evaluation and Planning for Nova Scotia Health. – Screenshot

Nearly 2,500 people have been treated at 21 clinics since September, including more than 500 in the West Health Zone and more than 300 in the East Zone.

The Nova Scotia Department of Health has partnered with primary care providers including physicians and nurse practitioners, public health departments and emergency health services to operate the clinics.

Sampalli, senior director of implementation science, evaluation and planning for global health systems, said the response from health care providers and people accessing care has been positive.

User surveys produced an average rating of 4.9 out of 5.

“They find it meets their needs, there’s no waiting time, they come in and out, they get what they need,” she said.

There have been calls for better communication about when and where clinics will be held, and some clinics have been moved indoors where possible because people have to wait in the cold. (You can follow the mobile care program at https://www.nshealth.ca/mobileprimarycare).

Patient demographics range from neonates to the elderly. About 10-15% of users are children, Sampalli said.

Nearly 2,500 people have been treated in 21 mobile clinics since September, including more than 500 in the western health zone and more than 300 in the eastern zone.  - Contributed - - Contributed
Nearly 2,500 people have been treated in 21 mobile clinics since September, including more than 500 in the western health zone and more than 300 in the eastern zone. – Contributed – – Contributed

The reasons people seek care also range from respiratory symptoms like cough and sore throat to tick bites to mental health issues.

Although clinics are set up for mild cases, people are immediately triaged in case they need to be sent to hospital for more serious problems.

People are followed through Nova Scotia Health’s virtual care program, which connects them by phone or online with health care providers.

If the person has a primary care provider, that provider takes care of the follow-up.

Surprisingly perhaps, there’s about a 50-50 split between users who are attached to a provider and those who don’t have a doctor or nurse practitioner.

“We expected a lot of people to be people who don’t have access to it, so we were surprised it was an even split in most communities.”

About 130,000 Nova Scotians are on the provincial Need a Family Practice registry.

Sampalli and other health officials were criticized at a legislative committee meeting this summer by opposition politicians who said mobile and virtual care programs were stopgap measures that did not tackle to the roots of the health care crisis in Nova Scotia.

“I would just say, two things, people need to have access to care,” she said. “As long as you carefully plan how these services are connected, so that people have continuity of care, that’s really important. Because when people access these services, they know there is tracking.

Also, new approaches to health care may end up attracting more health care providers to Nova Scotia, she argues.

“Physicians, nurse practitioners and many vendors are really looking to be part of innovative solutions. They see it as professional development activities.

“I have nurse practitioners and providers signing up, and they’re lining up for weekend activities and I’ve asked a few of them, you must be exhausted after a week (of work). They say no, it actually re-energizes us, we come here and it’s a different way of working and we can work with our colleagues. So they also want to be part of the solution.



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