Medibus visits Digby

Private company wants to bring health care to small centres

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier
Published on April 5, 2013

 The future of health care was parked in front of Digby town hall for a day.

Medibus is a private company providing mobile space and equipment for health care professionals.

They haul a 30-foot trailer behind a dually pick-up truck.

The trailer is a 300-square-foot “mobile telehealth platform”—currently the trailers are rigged up with gear for collecting blood samples and for general medical examinations. They also have a room equipped with the latest secure-video teleconferencing equipment to allow collaboration between a nurse practitioner and a physician for example.

The idea is to take the doctor’s office to the patients’ communities instead of having patients drive to central facilities—a kind of modern day house call.

Dr. Ken Buchholz spoke to both Digby municipal councils on Tuesday, April 2.

“Medibus is one little solution to fill a few little gaps,” he told the councils.

He said the goal of the visit was to build familiarity with a new and innovative way of offering health care services.

“Our biggest obstacle right now is acceptance,” said Buchholz. “People need to get familiar with our service and we need to learn how best to engage each community.”

The service started in the St. Margaret’s Bay/ Tantallon area as a way to save people from driving into the city to get blood work done and for water testing.

They currently have four trailers and offer blood collection services, water testing and wellness clinics in outlying areas of the Halifax Regional Municipality and in Bridgewater.

“As we began talking with district health authorities (DHAs), the question quickly became: ‘What else can Medibus do?’” said Buchholz.

They’d like to offer more services, like foot care, infant hearing screening, pulmonary testing, flu clinics or basic primary health care services; and they’d like to offer their services all across the province.

They’d like to see DHAs, like our South West Health, rent the bus and provide outreach programs with dieticians or physiotherapists on board, for example.

But some services are out of their league. Buchholz said in response to a question that dialysis requires a bigger more expensive set up – something truly of bus-size or bigger.

“That’s not something we could do,” he said.

Buchholz, who practices in Annapolis and supports the nurse practitioners and paramedics on Long Island via telehealth, said Medibus is an efficient and cost-effective way to provide health care in smaller centres.

“Small communities can’t afford to build static clinics,” he said. “Our mobile platform saves the DHAs the expense of setting up expensive offices.”

Buchholz said Medibus works like any private doctor’s office – services covered by MSI don’t cost the patient, but other services, like cosmetic surgeries or foot care do.

To collect blood, Medibus needs agreements with each local DHA. The blood-collection and water testing are only one part of the business model – physicians or nurse practitioners could provide health care without an agreement with the local DHA.

The whole reason, however, for Tuesday’s visit was to explain the service and start a dialogue about how and if it might work in the Digby area.

“We’re interested in collaborating and working on local strengths,” said Buchholz. “It’s important to us to understand the needs of each community, to not be competing, to be not be seen to be competing, to not be duplicating any services.”

For now Medibus is waiting to see what gaps they can fill.

They started with discussions with the Department of Health, they talked to various regulatory bodies to make sure they and their staff were adhering to the rules and they have had introductory discussions with DHAs.

Now they are starting to let communities know about the service and looking for opportunities.

“Now we hope people will talk it up,” said Buchholz. “Talk is what we want. We hope the councils will go out and engage people in dialogue about this.”

Warden Linda Gregory said she welcomes the initiative.

“It would be a benefit to the community, it’d be an asset for South West Health,” she said. “I’d like council to discuss sending a letter of support.”

Mayor Ben Cleveland said it is a “neat concept”.

“Especially in outlying areas, with the ageing population, if this can save them the time and cost and expense of travelling and make it easier for them to get the care they need, so people will actually get the care they need, then it will save us all money in the end,” said Cleveland.