Virtual physicians for emergency rooms represent the latest concept to be introduced to the southeast as a way to grapple with the ongoing physician and nurse shortage.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority announced last week that it would be implementing the virtual physician pilot project at the Galloway Health Centre in Oxbow, making Oxbow just the second community to experience this initiative.
A lack of physicians was cited as the reason. Oxbow lost a couple of beloved and dedicated physicians earlier this year. And while one replacement has started practising there already and another is hopefully on the way later this year, Oxbow still finds itself in need of help.
Rather than closing the emergency room entirely, the SHA has opted for virtual physicians.
It's the latest story we've heard about this recurring problem. There just aren't enough doctors and nurses out there. It's an incredibly demanding job. It's mentally draining. It can mean long hours. The training and the education can be extensive, especially if you're an aspiring doctor. And if the slightest thing goes wrong, someone's going to yap about it.
Most doctors and nurses are skilled, hard-working diligent and caring people who want what's best for their patients.
We've grappled with doctor and nurse shortages here for decades. It's a problem that pre-dates the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, although COVID certainly exacerbated the issue, especially when some people insisted on protesting in front of hospitals.
It pre-dates social media, although it doesn't help that people who have the slightest gripe with the health-care system will take to rant and rave platforms and other social media sites, and the administrators enable them by allowing them to post anonymously or under assumed names.
There's no easy solution. But it is time for better communication from SHA.
When there is a looming "interruption to services", the SHA needs to get it out to the community as quickly as possible, through a news release to media in the area, through social media posts and through communication with area officials.
Fortunately, they did that with the Oxbow virtual physician announcement.
But there have been other times in which the communication has been lacking. Regardless of whether it's a one-night interruption, a reduction in services or an indefinite interruption, the public needs to know, because so many of the visits to health facilities are unforeseen.
At the same time, the SHA needs to tell the public when services resume, so that people know when something is available again and can make decisions accordingly. The return of around-the-clock services at the Redvers Health Centre emergency room was only disclosed in an interview with the Mercury last week.
You'd think that when services resume, SHA would want to promote it as much as possible.
The opposition NDP tries to paint this as a government issue. It is not. It's an everywhere issue. We'd be in the same position we are now if the NDP was in power.
It's an easy message for the NDP to spread and one that resonates with a lot of people, but before blaming Scott Moe and the Saskatchewan Party for the current mess, we have to ask ourselves: how would the NDP change things.
There's a lack of qualified health-care professionals everywhere. It's not just a St. Joseph's Hospital in Estevan thing or a Saskatchewan Health Authority thing. There are communities far larger than Estevan that are going through similar pains.
We've been able to attract physicians to Estevan in the past, but keeping them has been another challenge. And while it's easy to think we're the only ones in this situation and it's because of a local problem, it's not. And while we can come up with recruitment strategies to try to keep the talent that we have, it's tough to keep physicians when you're competing with virtually every other community in the country.
The provincial government can talk about recruiting trips to the Philippines and other countries to bring in skilled, trained medical workers, but this represents just a small piece of a very large puzzle.
Until someone comes up with a silver-bullet solution to train more professionals in Canada while bringing in others from abroad, we're going to be faced with the same problems.