VICTORIA -- Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing a doctor to get a diagnosis has largely moved online or to appointments by phone.

One of the initial challenges of moving to virtual patient visits was deciding what sort of an appointment was going to be appropriate – by phone or by video – and whether a medical condition required in-person care. As more doctors and patients became experienced with virtual care, most of the appointments were done by phone.

“It was a little bit different because you had to ask your questions differently because you didn’t have the benefit of the person sitting in front of you,” said family physician Dr. Aaron Childs. “You didn’t have the other cues that help you to understand what’s happening with their health.”

With offices closed to prevent the spread of the virus and nobody in the waiting room awaiting care, doctors also had to adjust scheduling to accommodate the new workflow. They found staying on time while treating their patients by phone or online was somehow different than the steady stream of more conventional visits.

“This shift and the pandemic itself has really highlighted some of the gaps we’ve had in being able to look after people,” said Childs. “I think it has also highlighted that we did a lot of things because we have always done them that way.”

Childs says the pandemic forced doctors to be a little more innovative. He said he began to question the need for his patients to come in to his office to get a prescription just so they could take it to a pharmacist.

“I think the move to virtual care will have some positive aspects and some drawbacks,” said Childs. “One of the things we are trying to highlight is people staying connected with their family physician.”

That connection is difficult for many people in on Vancouver Island who don’t have a family doctor and rely on walk-in medical clinics for their health care needs. Virtual medical appointments may aid in overcoming a critical doctor shortage and help bridge the gap in health care.

“Folks in Victoria that don’t have a family doctor – and we know that the number is large so we’re hopeful – we hope to be able to provide a sort of network of virtual care to fill some of that gap, but it is still going to be a challenge,” Childs said.

He says with an increased focus on “team-based primary care,” the success of virtual care will help bring care to more people throughout the region.

“The difficulty we have is we are still a fair number behind in physicians we have in our region,” said Childs. “We still need to create some supports to attract physicians and to keep physicians comfortable in continuing to work.”

To see if your doctor is making virtual appointments or if you are in need of medical advise you can access the Family Doctor Virtual Care Directory here