Doc in your pocket: would you pay for a healthcare app?

You can order your dinner online. And a ride. Well how about an app that replaces going to a doctor’s office?

That’s what Maple is all about — an online service where you can pay to see a doctor online and even get a prescription. The app’s Toronto-based creator says it’s the future, while others say it’s another example of two-tier healthcare.

“The total wait time, from the time you decide you want to see a doctor to that prescription in your hand, is often less than an hour,” said ER doctor and Maple co-founder Brett Belchetz. “What I see is about half of the patients in the emergency room they don’t actually have an emergency, they just have nowhere else to go.”

So Belchetz created Maple, a website and app where — with just a tap of the finger — you can see a doctor online, have an examination by phone or by video, and even get a prescription sent to your pharmacy. The fees: $49 per visit on a weekday and $79 for weekends and holidays.

Belchetz says that Maple can conduct about 70 per cent of exams online, without having to touch you. He says they would still refer patients to a doctor’s office if it’s an ailment they can’t diagnose virtually.

Health Canada says telemedicine is not something it regulates — rather it pointed us to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO). They told us they govern the physicians, not the service.

In a statement, CPSO says it “has robust policies governing the practice of telemedicine. Physicians are expected to comply with the expectations set out in these policies and utilize their own professional judgment when determining both the course of care and the modality for a patient interaction. If we receive a complaint about the conduct of a specific physician, we will investigate.”

Natalie Mehra, Executive Director of the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), does not support the way Maple operates. “Overall it’s not a good thing. It’s not the technology that’s the bad thing, it’s really the fees that are the dangerous thing.”

The Canada Health Act guarantees all Canadians access to medically necessary physician and hospital services, free of financial or other barriers. OHIP, meanwhile, does not view telemedicine as a medically necessary service.

Mehra says the method of care shouldn’t matter. “They are delivered to everyone equally, the rich don’t get to jump the queue, so if you say you just change a little piece of technology and you’re allowed to charge fees then there will be no public health care in Canada,” she said.

Dr. Belchetz says it’s his hope that the government will bring virtual health care into the fold.

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