When Melanie Marcus’ son came home from summer camp with a stomach ache, she didn’t take him to a clinic. Instead, the Toronto mother of two turned on her computer to access a doctor online.
“I logged on and immediately chatted with a doctor, told him my son’s symptoms and we got a diagnosis,” Marcus said.
Marcus is one of several thousand Canadian patients to have tried a new online medical service called Maple.
“Maple is a telemedicine service that allows doctors to see patients using a combination of different modes of communication. It could be video, audio or instant messaging, depending on what the patient’s preferences and needs are,” said Dr. Brett Belchetz, Maple’s co-founder and CEO.
Launched in fall 2016, Maple is now operating in every province except for Saskatchewan, Quebec and New Brunswick. The company offers 24/7 access to physicians. Doctors assess patients using a variety of peripheral applications that can do things like take vital signs or look down a patient’s throat.
“At the end of the visit, our doctors are able to prescribe medications, write sick notes or write referrals for things like orthotics and massage therapy.”
Maple physicians cannot prescribed controlled medications, like opioids, and they’re also not yet able to order diagnostic testing, though Belchetz is hopeful that will change within the next few months.
Listen below: Chad Saunders, assistant professor with the Haskanye School of Business, weighs in on the online medical service called Maple.
The online visits are not covered by provincial health plans; patients must pay out-of-pocket for the service. Fees range from $49 for a visit during regular business hours to $99 if a doctor is required overnight.
“It is very much like the ‘Uber’ for doctors and patients, so at any point in time, anybody who is in the seven provinces that we’re operating in can click a button and they will be connected to the first available doctor that can see them.”
So far the service has provided care for 7,000 patients across the country.
Critics question whether it fits in with the Canada Health Act and the concept of universal coverage, especially since all of Maple’s 100+ physicians also practice within Canada’s health system, either as emergency department physicians or in family medicine.
“In my opinion, it’s operating outside the Canada Health Act,” said Dev Menon, a professor of health policy with University of Alberta’s School of Public Health.
“What the rules say is that these physicians who are practicing within the system cannot charge for any services that the province pays for, under the medically necessary services packages.”
Still, patients like Marcus say the convenience is worth the cost. She plans to continue logging on for her family’s medical care needs as often as she’s able to.