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August 7th - Virtual care key to safely increasing in-person clinical services for kids

A release from the Child and Youth Subcommittee of the Champlain Region Integrated Service Planning (CRISP) Committee

Health-care providers for children and youth in the Champlain region want parents to know that virtual care for their children and youth is critical to safely providing more in-person care amid COVID-19. It’s also an effective way to deliver care.

“Every day is important in the lives of children and we want them to be as healthy as they can be,” says Dr. Lindy Samson, Medical Chief of Staff at CHEO and co-chair of the Child and Youth Subcommittee of the Champlain Region Integrated Service Planning (CRISP) Committee. The subcommittee is coordinating increased clinical service for children and youth, including services for mental health and addictions, and development and rehabilitation.

“As we adjust to life with COVID-19, virtual care is essential for us to reach our goal of increasing health services — as safely, fairly and quickly as possible — for the kids and teens we have not been able to see in person throughout the pandemic,” adds Dr. Samson.

Dr. Samson is referring to the many surgeries, procedures, specialist and therapy appointments that had to be deferred or suspended as a result of COVID-19, as well as the reduced access to primary care providers.

Doctor’s offices and hospitals alike are now operating on a principle of virtual care first, which means that when it is safe and effective to do so, appointments happen via video conference or by phone. This relieves pressure on doctor’s offices and hospitals by allowing for the safe physical distancing of 2 metres in waiting rooms and reducing the potential spread of disease in the community with people staying home. It also increases the number of visits a physician can schedule in a day, in addition to helping conserve the overall supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), which was infamously short supply early in the pandemic and continues to be a concern.

“We are finding that families love the convenience of virtual care visits, but for health-care providers, it’s so important because it allows us to provide essential in-person visits for those needing them,” says Dr. Jane Liddle, a community pediatrician in Ottawa and member of the committee tasked with increasing in-person clinical service, as well as the Kids Come First Health Team. “But there are some growing pains.”

For example, Dr. Liddle has had appointments scheduled but the child was out on a bike ride, at a day camp or still asleep. “Yes, it is convenient, but we do ask that parents and kids treat it like they were coming into the office. An appointment can’t go ahead without the child or youth there.”

Drs. Liddle and Samson emphasize that virtual care complements, rather than replaces, face-to-face delivery of health services. If you need to be seen in person, you will be.

Beth Henley, a family representative on the subcommittee says, “Virtual care has been a lifeline. And while we know it is safe to go to doctor’s offices and hospitals, it is a relief to my children that they can stay home for appointments. For me, that is a huge comfort, especially because the quality of care we’ve experienced has been as excellent as always.”

A core piece of the subcommittee’s work is coordinating surgeries and procedures across the region’s hospitals. The subcommittee is making the most of available resources and operating rooms in order to efficiently work through the backlog caused by the pandemic. Still, they estimate it will be sometime in 2021 before we get back to where we were before COVID-19 took hold.

The subcommittee reminds residents of Eastern Ontario that the progress being made can be derailed by how much COVID-19 is in the community. Everyone’s help in practising physical distancing, masking in public, washing hands and adhering to their social bubbles of 10 will go a long way to reducing the spread of COVID-19. As Ottawa Public Health implores, let’s be COVIDWise to protect the vulnerable among us and, the committee adds, to allow a safe increase in providing health care across the region.

About the Child and Youth Subcommittee of the Champlain Region Integrated Service Planning (CRISP) Committee

The Child and Youth Subcommittee of the Champlain Region Integrated Service Planning (CRISP) Committee comprises representatives for community pediatricians, families, Almonte General Hospital, Carleton Place and District Memorial Hospital, CHEO, Cornwall Community Hospital, Hawkesbury General Hospital, Open Doors for Lanark Children and Youth, Pembroke Regional Hospital, Winchester District Memorial Hospital and Youth Services Bureau. The subcommittee partners are working together to increase in-person clinical services, whether that’s rescheduling a deferred surgery, reinstating in-person therapy or safely seeing a child or youth in a community care provider’s office when required. All the members are also partners in the Kids Come First Health Team, which comprises 61 pediatric health organizations, more than 1,000 health-care providers, and family and youth representatives.

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©2019 by Jan Harder.