Children’s Hospital virtual emergency clinic

Fall 2020

After-hours support for medical concerns

As COVID-19 began to appear in Ontario, and the government directed hospitals to ramp down outpatient and non-emergency procedures, physicians and staff in LHSC’s Children’s Hospital Emergency Department noticed a concerning trend. Patient visits were beginning to decline. The childhood ailments and injuries that they would typically see over the course of a day weren’t coming it at their normal rate. In fact, at the peak of the pandemic, visits to the department were down over 50 per cent.

Typically, this would be cause for celebration – after all, no one wants to think of illness or injury in children. But the issue wasn’t that children didn’t need to be seen, it was that they and their parents/caregivers were hesitant to visit the Emergency Department.

“As care providers, we were concerned that families may be waiting too long to seek the care their children need, inadvertently allowing some conditions to worsen,” says Dr. Rod Lim, Medical Director, Paediatric Emergency Department at Children’s Hospital.

In response to the hesitation that families may have had in in attending the hospital in person, Children’s Hospital developed a virtual emergency clinic for those concerned that their child may require emergency care.

“This virtual clinic is for parents and children who feel they need care, but are unsure whether the Emergency Department is the right place,” says Dr. Lim. “If a child is in medical distress immediately call 911 or go to the Emergency Department.”

The virtual clinic does not replace in-person visits to a primary care physician or the Emergency Department; rather, it provides a way for families to reach out for care if they may be hesitant to visit the hospital because of COVID-19. “We understand that some families are scared to come into the hospital, but we want to assure families that the Emergency Department is open and safe for urgent and emergent care” explains Dr. Lim. “This virtual clinic gives families an alternative care option.” Families should also consider contacting their primary care provider as many have after hours options available as well.

To date, the virtual emergency clinic has ‘seen’ more than 500 patients, with an average 15-minute wait time to speak to a physician.

“COVID-19 is encouraging us as health-care providers to find innovative ways to treat our patients,” explains Dr. Lim. “Because we’re not seeing patients in-person, we will not be able to diagnose or prescribe medication during the virtual appointment, but we will ensure that new or developing conditions do not worsen without treatment.”

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