P.E.I. government to put more money into virtual health-care programs

The provincial government has plans to expand virtual health-care offerings for Islanders soon.That announcement came after questions in the P.E.I. Legislature on Tuesday about Maple, and how some Islanders are experiencing long wait times using the virtual health app. The online health-care platform allows people to talk to doctors or nurse practitioners for things like prescription refills, requisitions for bloodwork or referrals for in-person care. The province pays the fees for Islanders who don’t have a primary care provider. Interim Liberal leader Hal Perry described issues with Islanders spending hours waiting to get an appointment, paying up to $80 out of pocket and, in some cases, still not getting access to a doctor using the app.”What exactly should patients in these situations with Maple do, aside from calling your office directly to complain?” Perry asked during question period. “What recourse do individuals … have under your health-care system?”Interim Liberal leader Hal Perry says some Islanders are stuck waiting on Maple for hours at a time, and aren’t receiving care. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.)Health Minister Mark McLane said patients using the paid version of Maple is “not something that we manage within the province,” and that the government has a contract to help with “unaffiliated patients,” meaning people who do not have a family doctor.”We also are going to RFP (request for proposals) to expand those services in the next few weeks, so we’ll see some improvements on the delivery of virtual care on P.E.I.,” McLane said.Minister asks Islanders to use Maple through government siteIn the 2023 provincial election campaign, the PCs promised to make Maple free for all Islanders at a cost of $6 million per year.That hasn’t happened yet.According to Health P.E.I., the province spent more than $1.1 million on the service from January to December of last year and has budgeted $2.7 million for the service in 2024.Last fall, the health agency’s data showed that the number of virtual appointments on Maple increased from 932 per month in 2022 to 2,339 appointments per month by June 2023.Health Minister Mark McLane urged Islanders to access Maple through the government website because the paid version, he says, is not affiliated with the province. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)In an interview with CBC News, McLane said the tender will be public within roughly a few weeks. He also said there “is some confusion out there” about how Maple is being used.”There is a pay portal that has, really, nothing to do with the provincial government of Prince Edward Island, and then there’s our portal as well,” he said. “I think it’s important that people ensure they’re on the provincial government page to access Maple, and not Maple itself.”That could be some of the issues that we’ve heard today with regards to payments. That [people are] not in the right place.”McLane said the intent of the RFP is to open up virtual care to all Islanders — not just those on the waitlist for a family doctor, known as the Patient Registry — so that people across P.E.I. don’t have to pay for virtual care.

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