New Website Offers Virtual Care
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography by Chris Bondy
COVID-19 has impacted everyone, everywhere. However, what’s perhaps most distressing about the coronavirus is how the ripple effects can be felt on both sides of the healthcare industry—the patients and the practitioners. The pandemic has forced healthcare professionals to adopt new strategies to best deliver their services.
One of these new strategies is the E-Health at Windsor-Essex website, which Amherstburg Family Health Team and CMHA Health Centre physician and President of the Essex County Medical Society (ECMS) Dr. Jennifer Bondy helped develop.
“COVID-19 is a global pandemic,” Dr. Bondy states. “It’s fair to say that everyone on the planet has been impacted in one way or another. Here in Ontario, we’re very fortunate. We have a healthcare system in place that, while not perfect, does provide a high level of care to a great number of people. During regular times, when a person gets sick, you can make an appointment at your local clinic or you can call EMS for emergency assistance. When people require surgery, they have access to some of the best surgical services in the world. These are things we all take as a bit of a given.”
However, this pandemic has caused many of these options to be taken off the table.
“Thanks to COVID, when we have been able to provide these services, they’ve looked quite different,” Dr. Bondy admits. “This is a time of heightened anxiety for many people. As providers, we recognize a lot of the fears that our patients are experiencing on a day-to-day basis.”
These changes have also impacted the well-being of the healthcare providers themselves.
“We consider it not only our job, but our duty, to continue to provide the highest
level of care as possible to our patients,” Dr. Bondy states. “To be honest, it’s been very challenging to not be able to provide the services that our patients want and need. On many occasions, I’ve had to tell patients, ‘I can’t do that for you right now.’ It’s very hard to say that to people and not be able to help them. That being said, I do think that we’re rising to the occasion and finding innovative ways to deliver care to both COVID and non-COVID patients.”
Recognizing the need for changing services, Dr. Bondy and many others came
together to create the E-Health at Windsor-Essex website.
“This website is a one-stop shop for our community members to find the primary care service option that they need during the pandemic,” Dr. Bondy explains. “After recognizing that care has had to change, we started delivering more virtual care.”
A number of different groups came together to develop the website which was spearheaded by the Primary Care Action Table for Non-Hospital Pandemic Planning. This group is comprised of many area primary care leads, as well as members of the ECMS Executive Committee. Ontario Health West has also provided support.
Importantly, the website is equipped with the COVID Population Health Navigator.
“It’s right in the middle of the website,” Dr. Bondy states. “It was developed by a team in London led by Dr. Dan Pepe, the Project Clinical Lead. It has rolled out to communities across Southwestern Ontario, including Windsor-Essex and London-Middlesex and Waterloo-Wellington.”
The COVID Population Health Navigator connects community members who are concerned that they have COVID-19 with primary care providers who are able to give them virtual assessments based on the patient’s unique circumstances.
“The website also tracks patient flow and collects important public health data about trends in real-time,” Dr. Bondy explains.
The community reaction to this virtual service has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Since we’ve launched in Windsor-Essex, we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from community members,” Dr. Bondy states. “We’re very pleased to be able to offer this service. With the COVID PHN specifically, patients feel more confident knowing that the providers in our area are using the tool. It’s nice to be able to see everything in front of you in one place.”
The website also contains a Services Map, which was originally launched by ECMS.
“The map tells you what services are available where, including primary care practices, family doctor and nurse practitioner offices,” Dr. Bondy explains. “It also shows lab clinics, X-Ray and ultrasound places. There’s also a phone number available to those people that can’t access the map online.”
The E-Health at Windsor-Essex website is also equipped with a Virtual Walk-In Clinic.
“Those people who don’t have a family doctor or nurse practitioner—or who are unable to access them at a specific time can log in to the virtual walk-in portion of the website and have access to a local primary healthcare provider,” Dr. Bondy states. “Since we’ve started, usership has been increasing slowly but surely. People appreciate having an option that’s an alternative to the emergency department, which may have well been where they would have ended up if they didn’t have this.”
Many, many heads came together in the creation of this website and its services,
including Rita Taillefer (Primary Care Co-Lead); Dr. Tim O’Callahan, Dr. Albert Ng, Andrew Atkins (Virtual Care Co-leads); Dr. Vik Maraj, Dr. Braedon Hendy (Virtual WIC Co-leads) Dr. Jessica Summerfield, Dr. Dan Pepe (COVID PHN Lead); Dr. Wajid Ahmed and the WECHU team; Shelby
Colarossi (Communications Lead); Amanda Hoyt (ECMS); Claudia den Boer, the CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Regional Lead for the Non-Hospital Pandemic Planning Team and multiple partners at Ontario Health West, including Nicole Robinson, Erin Links and Brittany Watson.
“The work that went on behind the scenes to get this website going has been a massive group effort,” Dr. Bondy states. “We hope that all our community members will be able to benefit from its use. This is a starting point, and I hope we can continue to build on it.”
While the E-Health at Windsor-Essex website has been immeasurably helpful, Dr. Bondy notes that we are still facing unprecedented times.
“Life in Windsor looks far different today than any of us would have imagined a few months ago,” Dr. Bondy admits. “I think for a lot of people it still seems like a bad dream. Everyone’s been making adjustments to their routines. And the reality of that is that everyone reacts differently to stress and to change. These adjustments have been a much greater challenge for some people than they were for others.”
However, Dr. Bondy notes that the horizon we’re facing is not totally devoid of sunlight.
“Believe it or not, I keep going back to the quote from Mr. Rogers,” Dr. Bondy states. “He said that when he was a boy and he would see scary things in the news, his Mother would say to him: ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people that are helping.’ It’s exactly what I’ve done and it’s brought me a great deal of comfort. I’m so very encouraged by the countless acts of kindness and togetherness that I’ve continued to witness from so many different individuals, from so many different sectors and backgrounds. I think, at the end of the day, our legacy in Windsor-Essex will be one of helpers.”
The E-Health at Windsor-Essex website is accessible at: ehealthwindsoressex.ca.