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Virtual doctor to replace human one for 10 night shifts in Dawson Creek ER

Robo-doc!
Virtual doc DC new
Virtual doctor schematic.

Over the next ten night shifts – a virtual doctor will replace a living breathing one in the Dawson Creek ER.

To help avoid closure of the Emergency Department, and diversion to Fort St John, Northern Health and the Dawson Creek Hospital have opened the door to night shift ER coverage by the Real Time Virtual Supports (RTVS) Program. RTVS, a project of Doctors of BC, the Rural Coordination Centre of BC, UBC, and the First Nations Health Authority, provides 24/7 physician coverage for Emergency Medicine, Pediatrics, ICU, GP-Obstetrics, and more.

The goal of RTVS is to provide immediate virtual support for any clinician in rural BC, right at their finger tips via Zoom.

“RTVS began 1.5 years ago with the goal to support clinicians in rural, remote, and Indigenous Communities by having 24/7 physicians dedicated to taking calls from any rural community that needs a hand / wants a second opinion,” says Dr Brydon Blacklaws, Co-Lead of the RTVS Program. Blacklaws said the program is at the cutting edge of telehealth and virtual medicine, taking phone and video calls from every corner of the province.

Over the next couple weeks, the first call for the Emergency Room RN at night will be to the ‘RUDI’ doctor, which is an emergency physician dedicated to Dawson Creek for the night. The RUDI Team consists of 25 experienced emergency physicians from across the province, all with a passion for rural health, emergency medicine, and virtual support. If there is a case that requires more than can be provided virtually, the RUDI Doctor can bring on another RTVS virtual consultant, initiate immediate transfer to another facility, or call in a local physician.

“Even with all the technology, the majority of the hard work is done by the emergency nurses; The real superheroes of any emergency department – especially one where the physician is virtual”.

RUDI Doctors can still admit patients, and order bloodwork, x-rays, and CT Scans etc. Blacklaws notes this is fairly unique for RTVS though, as most of their calls come from much smaller communities, often with only one nurse on at a time.

“When we get a call we are in our office and ready.”

Matters such as procedures that require an in person doctor will result in a patient transfer, a doctor on call coming in, or waiting for the incoming shift doctor in the morning.

“Telehealth has been around a long time, but doing virtual medicine for a community the size of Dawson Creek is ground-breaking stuff. It sounds basic but it is a years in the making.”

“We are sorry to hear of the staffing shortages in Dawson Creek and want to pay huge respects to the mountains of work done by your local medical team, and Northern Health, over the past couple weeks," adds Blacklaws. 

"Just because every shift could not get covered by an ‘on the ground’ physician though, doesn’t mean there needs to be a lapse in high quality care and we want to thank the Dawson Creek Hospital leadership and Northern Health for looking at RTVS as an option for Dawson.”

For information on the technology - see www.rccbc.ca/rtvs/