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Walk-in-clinic wait times now available online

Sick people frustrated by long lines or closed doors at walk-in medical clinics can now look up wait times online. University of Victoria business school graduate Blake Adam has launched a free online map at medimap.
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Dr. Chris Watt, owner of Cook Street Village Medical Clinic, said the six-physician family practice and walk-in clinic started using the site about five weeks ago.

Sick people frustrated by long lines or closed doors at walk-in medical clinics can now look up wait times online.

University of Victoria business school graduate Blake Adam has launched a free online map at medimap.ca that allows users to search wait times for walk-in clinics in a given city — eliminating the need for patients to call around or show up, only to be disappointed if the clinic is beyond capacity.

Adam, 26, who is in commercial banking, and partner Jonathan Clark, 24, a software engineer, were struck by the pure “simplicity” of the idea as a way to improve access to medical care.

The pair began with a six-month pilot program in White Rock. This spring, they branched out to 35 clinics in nine B.C. cities. In Greater Victoria, 15 of about 25 clinics are participating. The co-founders hope to expand the service across Canada.

The site can be accessed by computer, smartphone or tablet. An app is the company’s next priority.

“The wider the adoption, the more value there is for patients,” Adam said.

The website site allows people to scroll down a list of nearby clinics and see a clinic’s address, hours of operation, location in relation to other clinics on a map and wait-time. With a doctor shortage in Victoria, it is not a rare occurrence to see a clinic at capacity, or showing a wait of an hour or more.

Adam said an electronic reminder prompts clinic staff to update the site about every 30 minutes. “It takes about five seconds to do,” Adam said.

If the site hasn’t been updated within 40 minutes, it will read “no recent update.” Clinics not using the service will show “not yet participating.”

Dr. Chris Watt, owner of Cook Street Village Medical Clinic, said the six-physician family practice and walk-in clinic started using the site about five weeks ago.

Watt was “so impressed” by Medimap’s presentation, he asked the co-founders to present it to the local Division of Family Practice — “they said sign me up!”

“It’s a good idea whose time has come,” Watt said. “When I speak to colleagues who own clinics and are running them, we are all struggling with the same challenges of excessive patient demand and under-supply of physicians.”

Medimap can’t tackle the doctor-shortage problem, but can alleviate many “pain points,” Watt said.

For sick patients and caregivers, it decreases the guess work involved in seeking timely care, he said.

For clinic staff, it cuts down on the number of calls inquiring about wait times. And for physicians and administrators, it reduces sometimes emotional exchanges at the counter when a clinic is full.

“They are kind of heartbreaking conversations,” Watt said. No staff person feels good about declining care to patients, he said, “but from the patient point of view, it can seem heartless.”

Watt rejects the idea that the online tool will encourage patients to seek care from multiple clinics, at the same time the province has a goal that residents receive continuous care from a family doctor or clinic.

“The fact is that patients already [visit multiple clinics],” Watt said, adding the online tool could improve continuity of care by giving patients’ better information about their clinic of choice, so they can plan their visit.

Medimap was presented last week to the emergency departments of Victoria General and Royal Jubilee hospitals. The company pitched the idea of having a big screen in emergency rooms displaying the medimap.ca list of clinics to offer patients a choice — if their illness is not an emergency — of nearby clinics that might serve their needs.

There is no cost to participating clinics or patients, and the plan is for it to remain free, Adam said, although advertising will be added to the site “down the road.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com