Dr. Tamara Pacholuk is a family doctor who works at the Northern Health Virtual Primary and Community Care Clinic, and she’s also the medical lead for the clinic. The Virtual Clinic is for people who don’t have a family doctor or nurse practitioner or people who need care on weekends, after their health centre is closed, or are unable to travel to receive care due to seasonal weather. (Note that before contacting the Virtual Clinic, you’re encouraged to call your family doctor or nurse practitioner, or visit the urgent and primary care centre in your community.)
Until recently, Dr. Pacholuk was living and working in Haida Gwaii, but now she works at the Virtual Clinic and as a locum doctor. A locum doctor provides coverage for other doctors who have their own offices, while they’re away on holidays or off sick.
Even through Dr. Pacholuk is travelling around providing care to patients throughout the North, she enjoys working at the Virtual Clinic because she works with the same staff no matter where she’s living at the time.
Adjusting to the needs of Northerners
Dr. Pacholuk has family in the military and RCMP, which means frequent moves to new communities for work. She understands that when you move a lot it can sometimes take years to find a family doctor, or require several hours’ travel for a doctor’s appointment. In these situations, the Virtual Clinic is a great option for care.
Due to COVID-19, many family doctors and nurse practitioners, not just those working at the Virtual Clinic, are already providing care over the phone or by video. Before COVID-19, Dr. Pacholuk was interested in providing virtual care, but now it’s a more mainstream way of delivering care due to the pandemic.
“The Virtual Clinic really is about increasing access to a doctor or nurse practitioner,” says Dr. Pacholuk. “We’re able to support patients who don’t have access to a doctor or nurse practitioner, as well as support the clinics who may have a temporary shortage, illness, or absence.”
“There are so many great things about working with the Virtual Clinic. I love the flexible schedule, and that I can work from the comfort of my own home, without having to leave my dogs while I provide care for patients,” she adds. “I think it’s amazing that patients don’t have to sit in a busy waiting room, and are instead able to continue with the rest of their day while waiting for the appointment.”
Virtual care means more patient involvement
However, virtual appointments can pose some challenges to health care providers, such as patients taking a phone call appointment while they’re driving, or taking the appointment in a location where they aren’t alone, which can create issues with confidentiality. If you’re calling the Virtual Clinic, we suggest calling from a quiet space where you’re able to speak freely about your concerns.
“One exciting thing I’ve seen patients enjoy is doing their own physical exams. I had a patient who I talked through checking her lymph nodes and what to look and feel for. She was excited to help and be directed through it,” says Dr. Pacholuk.
It’s important to know that the Virtual Clinic is an additional tool for accessing health care, but not a replacement for your family doctor or nurse practitioner. Before trying the Virtual Clinic, we encourage people to call their family doctor or nurse practitioner to see when they can get an appointment.
Certain types of appointments can be done virtually, but not all of them. People need to be open to going in for a physical exam in their community if there are things that can’t be done virtually.
Putting people at ease
“I had a virtual visit with one child who seemed pretty scared on the video. But I showed him my puppy and then he really enjoyed the visit!” says Dr. Pacholuk. “I feel like this makes me seem more human, and the visit less intimidating, than when I’m in a clinic in a sterile environment.”
It can be intimating for some people if they’re never done virtual care, but the staff at the Virtual Clinic walk people through the process – the experience might be more enjoyable than you think!