NOSM alumna leads innovative virtual emergency department

Virtual ER
The virtual emergency department (ED) at Health Sciences North (HSN) in Sudbury was the first of its kind in Northern Ontario. It is an innovation in health care that is improving access and breaking down barriers—specifically for those who fear the emergency room, those without access to technology, and for people in rural and remote surrounding areas who would be forced to travel long distances for emergency care.  
Virtual ER

“The world is constantly changing and our demographic of patients is constantly changing. The number of people accessing the virtual ED since the start has been climbing, and I’d say doubling week-to-week. People are using it for different reasons, so we’re capturing different populations. There are some who don’t want to visit in person out of fear, and others who we can help and avoid an unnecessary visit.”

Dr. Renée-Anne Montpellier

“The pandemic really pushed innovation in medical care. It was a huge awakening for our health-care system, especially for the emergency department,” says Dr. Renée-Anne Montpellier, NOSM alumna (MD 2012) and Assistant Professor, emergency physician at HSN, and third-year fellow in emergency medicine. 

The virtual ED also led to important community partnerships with First Nations communities in the Sudbury district. “We’ve formed a partnership with the Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre to reach the needs of our Indigenous community with a streamlined communication at the centre, where a patient can call directly with a nurse,” says Dr. Montpellier. “We’re also going to be partnering with the Greater City of Sudbury on a virtual hub initiative that offers central locations in apartment buildings that will serve as virtual ED access points for those who don’t have access to technology.” 

The virtual ED has also been able to better serve the elderly, thanks to the help of their adult children who are supporting their parents with devices and set up. This avoids having people go in person, or alone due to COVID restrictions, and potentially exposing them to germs or viruses in the ED. 

For those who do need care, emergency physicians in the virtual ED are able to order tests, and in some cases treat people as outpatients on the same day. “It avoids crowding in our emergency department but people still get that great care, so it’s been going really well,” she says. 

She credits NOSM for the skills she learned in advocacy and leadership, which helped her lead the virtual emergency department initiative. “If it weren’t for the faculty, the professors at NOSM who guided me to where I am today, and mentored me, I wouldn’t be getting involved in these projects and pushing forward to innovate in medicine,” says Dr. Montpellier. “As medical students, we are wide-eyed and don’t really know where we are headed. Those mentors help us see the difference we can make and show us that we can push through and achieve success. It’s important.” 

The Virtual Emergency Department at Health Sciences North opened on December 15, 2020. It is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m, Monday to Friday offering same-day appointments. People can start requesting appointments at 7:30 a.m. and will receive a call within 30 minutes to schedule their appointment. For more information or to reach the Virtual Emergency Department visit the HSN website. 

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