An innovative and collaborative virtual clinic is giving Indigenous people in Alberta a new option when it comes to accessing health care.
The Alberta Indigenous Virtual Care Clinic (AIVCC) opened late last year to provide “medically and culturally safe and accessible care for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit patients and their families,” said Dr. Amy Gausvik, physician lead for the new clinic.
“We know that Indigenous patients in Alberta, whether urban or rural, face significant barriers when accessing health care,” said Dr. Gausvik. “Some of those barriers are geographic. Some of them are cultural.”
Spurred on by the concerns of Indigenous communities around COVID, Gausvik said the concept of a virtual clinic started with doctors within the Alberta Health Services’ Indigenous Wellness Program Alternate Relationship Plan wanting to provide additional support to Indigenous patients.
“We realized pretty quickly that if we got ourselves organized with one central intake line, shared electronic medical records, and medical office assistants to take calls and book appointments, we could offer the service on a much larger scale and address a huge gap that had been present well before COVID.”
To achieve this goal, organizers looked to and received support from First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group, a not-for-profit organization that provides technical services and training for First Nations in Alberta. The group takes direction from a chiefs’ steering committee and a board of directors, which includes representatives from Treaty 6, 7, and 8, all of which have a large presence in the province.
“We knew that there were gaps in services,” explained Michelle Hoeber, who works with both the AIVCC team and the First Nations advisory group. “Many communities don’t have a visiting physician, so it’s difficult for them to get support when they need it without having to travel long distances.”
AIVCC organizers also received support for the virtual clinic from Indigenous Services Canada (First Nations and Inuit Health Branch), as well as advice and inspiration from First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day, a similar virtual health-care program operating in British Columbia.