CHEO halts virtual ER visits amid 'extraordinary' demand for in-person care

·1 min read
The emergency department at CHEO has seen such an increase in demand for in-person care that it has had to suspend virtual visits for at least 90 days. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
The emergency department at CHEO has seen such an increase in demand for in-person care that it has had to suspend virtual visits for at least 90 days. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

CHEO, eastern Ontario's children's hospital in Ottawa, will suspend all virtual visits with emergency room staff for at least 90 days due to growing demand for in-person care, and to get a handle on ER wait times.

As the region's only pediatric hospital, CHEO's emergency department cared for more than 7,100 children and youth in person in October, a 68 per cent increase over October 2020, according to a news release.

The "extraordinary" demand for urgent in-person care began in the summer and has now grown beyond what the hospital would typically see during peak viral season, which runs from December to April, the release said.

October also saw a record number of patients with a non-COVID-19 respiratory virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) visit CHEO for care.

The hospital says it will reassign staff from virtual care to in-person support during this time.

Demand for in-person visits growing

CHEO began offering virtual ER visits at a time when the volume of in-person visits was "incredibly low" and the hospital worried families might not be getting the care they needed, said Tammy DeGiovanni, the hospital's chief nurse executive.

But with demand now growing for in-person care, DeGiovanni said she believes community clinics and other resources can fill the void left by dropping virtual care.

A new care clinic in Orléans and the existing one at Brewer Arena are two options for families who need non-urgent care for their children, DeGiovanni said, while some family doctors are also providing more services.

"The safety and effectiveness for our high volume of acute-care patients is always going to be our priority," said DeGiovanni.

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