EQ Virtual works to make online health services accessible to the Downtown Eastside

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      EQ Virtual, an online service that allows B.C. residents to consult health-care professionals via video, is working to make itself more accessible to people living in the Downtown Eastside.

      The health-care service, which is operated by Equinoxe LifeCare, a certified health-care management company based in Montreal, is already available to the public and covered by the province's medical services plan.

      It requires patients to have a computer or a mobile device to create an account, provide their care card number, and describe symptoms. The user is then connected with a doctor over video chat. After the "visit" with the doctor is complete, patients can review the care plan the doctor set up, and a care manager can assist them with scheduling a follow-up appointment, sending prescriptions, and other paperwork as needed.

      Daniel Martz is CEO of Equinoxe LifeCare. In a telephone interview, he said the company began discussions with Mark Brand, owner of Save on Meats, to brainstorm how they could together make the service more available to residents of the Downtown Eastside.

      "It came about that he [Brand] had a vision to provide what he's calling the Positive Access Link (PAL) program to the community, which will enable people in the Downtown Eastside with a way to connect to services through mobile," Martz told the Straight.

      In a separate interview, Brand said that PAL, a community group, plans to provide second-generation mobile devices equipped with data plans to low-income residents of the Downtown Eastside. He noted PAL members are in discussions with multiple telecom providers to make a deal where old smartphones marked for recycling instead are provided to residents in need.

      “They will be their own personal phones,” Brand said. “Nobody will be paying for anything except us [PAL].”

      Brand added if people lose their device, they can be replaced, but he insisted people won't have an incentive to sell them because the phones will be older models.

      “No one's going to buy them on the streets,” he emphasized.

      Martz said they’re still in the early stages of planning how EQ Virtual and PAL will work together, even though EQ Virtual is available to anyone who can access it. Brand said those who are not covered under MSP or another health-care program, or those who do not have ID, will be provided with a user ID and PAL will cover the cost for the patient to use EQ Virtual's service.

      “They'll be able to log on and we will pay for it,” he said. "We're going to make it a financially viable model out of this business."

      Martz said the doctors are all B.C.-based physicians who provide service in the provinces and who have their own clinics.

      “They’re either in their office, or they're in their home office, and they're providing care through our platform wherever they are,” he said.

      If a patients requires immediate attention, Martz continued, they should call 911. He emphasized EQ Virtual is not providing an emergency service. Martz added if a patient needs to be examined physically, they will be referred to a clinic.

      “We refer to existing general practitioner clinics and also specialist clinics," he said.

      Martz said one great thing about EQ Virtual is the ability to provide mental-health care through their platform.

      “They can provide a sometimes even better experience for the patient, given that they don't have to leave their home and sit in the waiting room and worry that someone may spot them there,” he explained. “They can be in a comfortable environment of their desire to get the care that they need.”

      Brand agreed, and said mental-health issues or anxieties that occur from people being addicted, or from feeling like other people are looking down on them, are barriers to people getting help.

      “I think this is a step in the right direction to getting people there quicker,” he said.

      Brand added he is hopeful the program will help the health-care community move towards more open discussion, both positive and negative, around solutions for related problems faced by residents of the Downtown Eastside, such as employment.

      Follow Jocelyn Aspa on Twitter @jocelynaspa