The Way of the Future | JIM FURLONG

It will not be easy to accept for a lot of people but “virtual care” is the way of the future in Newfoundland and places that are like it.

What “like it” means is a place where there is a small population spread over a vast geographical area. That makes things difficult and means that the provision of all kinds of services is challenging. It is true for medical services and educational services and is true for travel. The island of Newfoundland is a vast area. I remember from Grade 6 geography that it was given as 110,000 square miles. Tom Osborne, the Minister of Health and Community Services, had barely finished his announcement last week when the virtual care criticism started.

“It won’t be as good as the service of hands-on doctors,” said the unions.

Well, Hello?

Of course, it won’t but as the late singer Tiny Tim said; “The maps have changed”. Our world is so different these days and it is from social changes brought on in part by basic economics that is forcing those changes upon us.

That NAPE and the nurses union are against it comes as no surprise. Their task is to protect union jobs, not run the complex health care system for the province.

You know it was bad at one time to talk about fish farming in Newfoundland, but the future of the fishery is now firmly rooted in the idea of growing fish instead of just finding better methods of catching what is left of them in the tattered oceans. Now in health care the idea of ever finding enough doctors to go to rural Newfoundland and Labrador and look after everyone is over.

You can have petitions to government and form “action committees” until the cows come home but it is not a viable solution. Another way must be found and to think otherwise is to dream in technicolour.

The government has given a contract valued at $11 million a year to a firm called Teladoc to provide a virtual technology and coverage by a physician for the two-year duration of the deal. That changes things more in a changing world. Should the contract have gone to a Newfoundland firm? Well, that is a separate question for another time.

Medicine and its delivery will change more but has already changed here. Consider for a moment your visit to your ophthalmologist these days. The doctor is no longer the first person you see when reception calls your name in the office. Instead, you go into the hands of technicians who do the warmup work with observations and tests the results of which are then given to the doctor. That is the way things work now.

An increasing number of doctor visits these days are conducted by phone. It is not my preference really, but I do understand that for some medical things it is not necessary to SEE the doctor. The doctor is on the phone with me and in this case whether “the phone doctor’’ is in St. John’s or somewhere in Alberta doesn’t matter.

The final paragraph belongs to a TV series reference. Does anyone remember The Flying Doctor series set in Australia? It opened with a radio transmission; “Flying Doctor calling Wallabee Base, Flying Doctor calling Wallabee Base; Over.

It was about the provision of medical services to the vast outback of Australia. We aren’t quite there with virtual medical services, but we are responding to the same problem in a different manner. The problem is geography and resources, and it is a tough one that requires an imaginative solution.

You can contact Jim Furlong at [email protected]