Community paramedics in BC expand virtual assistance to rural patients

The COVID-19 crisis has forced the expansion of a program wherein paramedics in remote B.C. rural communities help patients and doctors connect with one another.

About a year ago, community paramedic Case Ambrose was one of a small number of paramedics going into the homes of seniors and others with heart, liver and other chronic health problems and then using their laptop computers to connect the patients through conference calls with their doctors.

Ambrose, who works in the Boston Bar area, said that since the arrival of the pandemic, the paramedics are no longer doing home visits due to the risk of exposure to the coronavirus but are instead remotely helping patients to use Zoom or FaceTime apps to do the same thing.

“We’re rolling it out with potential patients and they’ve also expanded it across B.C. so all community paramedics are using this to access patient care,” Ambrose said Tuesday. “It’s definitely in the baby steps right now. I think the biggest challenge is a lot of community paramedic patients are seniors, so to get them onto a computer can be a bit of a challenge. But we’re finding that with a little bit of coaching, they’re more than capable of doing it.”

There are about 100 community paramedics in rural areas around the province.

Ambrose said that the seniors and members of the Indigenous communities he deals with are “very happy” to be not having to leave their homes to get the medical care they need.

“It’s eliminating that risk for sure,” he said.

Dr. Josh Greggain, a family physician in Hope who helps provide outreach services to First Nations communities and has worked with Ambrose and other paramedics, said that the COVID-19 crisis became a “great leveraging” point for the community paramedicine program to be ramped up quickly.

Some of the locations don’t have good wireless or internet connections so the ability to have video conferencing isn’t always possible but in that case the phone can be used, he said.

“Even the telephone, it’s a way to connect with patients. In parallel, family practice in general has gone virtual in the last six-to-eight weeks because of the same principle,” Greggain said.

The use of Zoom and FaceTime is just an “amplifier” of what’s already foundational, which is the relationship among patients, paramedics and doctors, he said.

Greggain said his patients have been “thrilled” to have a connection and be provided with information during a troubling time.