Manitoba is launching a centralized emergency care service. 

This new service, called Virtual Emergency Care and Transfer Resource Service (VECTRS) will support safe, consistent and timely emergency care by offering health care providers in rural, northern and some Winnipeg facilities improved access to specialist consultation for clinical advice and the transfer of patients.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon made the announcement Wednesday in Steinbach. She says the service will respond to calls from urgent care centres, rural emergency departments, health facilities and nursing stations across the province as well as ERS teams in need of consultation and specialist advice. 

The virtual service will be staffed by emergency physicians, advanced care paramedics and advanced practice respiratory therapists to provide 24-7 emergency care and transport advice in coordination with on-call specialists while coordinating referrals and prioritizing patient transfers to the most appropriate location for ongoing care. 

"With the ability to connect with emergency care specialists virtually, health-care providers can receive medical advice immediately for the patients in their care who are suffering from an emergent life, limb or vision-threatening condition, or another acute change in their health status," says Dr. Rob Grierson, Chief Medical Officer of ERS with Shared Health. "With this new model of care, emergency care teams can spend less time determining where they should bring a patient, less time arranging the transport of patients, and more time focusing on the care of their patients."

"This service is especially beneficial for rural health care providers working in emergency departments as it will provide rapid virtual support and consultation with an emergency specialist who can help with the care plan of critically ill patients," says Dr. Denis Fortier, Regional Lead of Medical Services and Chief Medical Officer, Southern Health. 

He notes this advice will help determine appropriate transfer locations better and, in some instances, may prevent an unneeded transfer altogether. As well, this service will help minimize the amount of time a rural health care provider spends coordinating transfer plans. He notes ultimately, the Virtual Emergency Care and Transfer Resource Service will support the best and most appropriate care closer to home while ensuring safe management and coordinated transfer of patients requiring more advanced critical care. This in turn leads to better patient outcomes.

The new program has an annual price tag of about $5.5 million. According to the Health Minister, it will be up and running in May of 2023. 

Dr. Grierson says the higher acuity patients will go straight through the VECTRS system, while some of the lower acuity patients may not actually need to get to VECTRS if there is not a lot of clinical consultation that is required. He notes the bulk of those acuity calls will continue to be managed by their communications both in Winnipeg and Brandon. 

When comparing VECTRS to our current system, Dr. Grierson says generally speaking today, before a patient is even transferred to a facility, the sending facility must make all of those arrangements. This might be done by a physician, nurse practitioner or a nurse in a nursing station. 

"So, they have to phone a number of different people and try to find a physician to accept the patient or to try to kind of target exactly where that patient needs to go," he explains. 

Dr. Grierson says sometimes that is very straightforward, but not always. For example, sometimes someone looks ill, but it is not clear what might be wrong. He notes the whole idea is to take the burden off of those facilities that are presently making all of the arrangements. 

"You call us, we'll take that piece, we'll help you immediately, providing advice to the patient about patient care and then we'll make the arrangements for transfer," he explains.