In March 2020, the Renfrew County Virtual Triage and Assessment Centre (VTAC) was launched to enhance access to necessary healthcare services during the pandemic for residents of the rural county, and has since expanded to neighbouring South Algonquin Township. For those who do not have a family doctor, (approximately 23% of the population of Renfrew County), and for anyone who is unable to access their regular family physician, VTAC has been an essential service. By the end of 2020, the program had completed 21,500 virtual and in-home assessments and over 33,000 COVID-19 tests.
VTAC includes physicians and community paramedics who assess and manage health concerns through virtual (telephone and video) appointments, in-home assessments and, when required, remote monitoring equipment. COVID-19 testing is done at drive-thru and mobile sites and at home for vulnerable housebound patients. The service is a partnership between family physicians and primary care teams, the County of Renfrew paramedic service, public health, regional hospitals and many existing community health organisations. As a result, residents of rural, remote and under-serviced communities in Ontario's largest county are able to access fast and flexible healthcare that is available 24/7 and is covered by OHIP. This in turn helps to manage demand on the region’s emergency departments. While VTAC was initially established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program’s impact and benefits have proven to be far-reaching. Not only has the program facilitated effective testing and patient care related to COVID-19, it has also demonstrated an innovative and modern solution to improving access to healthcare and alleviating demand on emergency services.
The DFM’s Dr. Jonathan Fitzsimon is a family physician, the chief of medicine at Arnprior Regional Health, and the Medical Lead of VTAC. From a funding perspective, the VTAC is an official COVID-19 assessment centre and depends entirely on provincial funding designated for the pandemic. The possibility of that funding eventually ending presents a challenge for Dr. Fitzsimon and the VTAC team, as well as regional politicians and local residents. They are hopeful that VTAC’s demonstrated effectiveness will ensure sustainable funding and longevity of the service, contributing to enhanced healthcare outcomes for Renfrew County – and beyond. Dr. Fitzsimon recognizes the VTAC model as one that could readily translate to other remote, rural and under-serviced communities that experience similar challenges in access to care. VTAC is poised as an important pilot program that has the potential to transform healthcare across many Canadian communities.
November 26, 2020, DFM Family Medicine Grand Rounds, Unité d'enseignement Pembroke Teaching Unit (starts at 03:48)
September 22, 2020, Rural Spark podcast, Re-thinking rural medicine during COVID-19
September 21, 2020, CTV News, 'The second wave is here:' Renfrew County doubling testing capacity
September 11, 2020, CBC, How the pandemic sparked a new program that connects rural Ontarians to rapid-response health care
September 2, 2020, Kingston Whig Standard, Renfrew County Virtual Triage and Assessment Centre surpasses 10,000 mark for family doc assessments, COVID-19 tests
August 12, 2020, Renfrew Today, Over 30,000 people in Renfrew County to be without a doctor, VTAC serving as an alternative
June 12, 2020, Canadian Family Physician, Providing 24/7 healthcare for all during the COVID-19 pandemic by Fitzsimon J, Gervais O, Lanos C & Sullivan-Bentz M
April 29, 2020, Renfrew Today, RC-VTAC proving its value
March 30, 2020, Ottawa Citizen, Renfrew County already seeing results from 'virtual assessment' strategy
March 27, 2020, Arnprior Regional Health Media Release, New pandemic healthcare service: Renfrew County Virtual Triage and Assessment Centre