Toronto medical clinic reopens virtually for people without OHIP coverage

A Toronto medical clinic is reopening after being closed for several months because of the pandemic.

The Imagine Clinic serves some of the city’s most vulnerable people. As of Saturday, the facility will be offering virtual appointments.

The pro bono teaching clinic is run by students and faculty with the University of Toronto. When services were paused last spring because of COVID-19, the team knew it would be difficult for the patients they typically see.

Faculty advisor Naomi Steenhof is a pharmacotherapy specialist. She has been with the clinic since she was a student.

“My sense is probably people as with many things, just either not receiving care or things escalate so much further that they end up having to go to the emergency department,” Steenhof said.

Read more: Toronto hospitals encouraged by early stages of virtual ER programs introduced during COVID-19

What is unique about the Imagine Clinic is its focus on providing care for people who do not have a provincial health card.

Medical students work alongside licensed professionals free of charge. Before the pandemic, they were a well known resource for people experiencing homelessness as well as for refugee families.

“We’re just a way for people, especially vulnerable people when there are no other options for them,” 4th year pharmacy student James Plaetzer said.

Camilla Parpia is a second year medical student. She said the work they do is critical given the number of people in need.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people in Ontario who do not have an OHIP card,” she said.

Read more: Sunnybrook Hospital offers ‘virtual emergency department’ appointments in 6-month pilot project

The team has been working at fine tuning the virtual process for the last several months. The goal is to make it as easy as possible to access.

“You call in and use the link, you will be put into a waiting room, and then you will be placed into a breakout room, with a pair of student volunteers who will begin their assessment of you,” Parpia said.

Consultations can be done through Zoom or over the phone, and the information is stored electronically in a secure way. That work flow helps students and doctors collaborate while not being physically together.

Dr. Andrew Boozary said he hopes to see this approach replicated as a way of improving access to medical care. “The more we’re seeing interdisciplinary collaborative models of care, this is what we really need to see scaled out across the system for the pandemic,” Boozary said.

The team acknowledges there are some barriers, as not everyone will be able to access the clinic virtually. They know not everyone has a phone or a computer.

But in February, the plan is to launch a hybrid virtual/in person option to address that concern. “All they would be able to do is to show up to our clinic,” Parpia said, “… and someone would be able to connect them with any of our technology, WIFI, or the phone that they require in order to access our care.”

The clinic is open virtually Saturdays from 10am-4pm.


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