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Province restores blood-work referrals to eVisitNB service

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Man surrounded by cameras and microphones
New Brunswick Health Minister Bruce Fitch said he asked staff to review the new contract with the company that runs eVisitNB. (Radio-Canada)

New Brunswick Health Minister Bruce Fitch says referrals for blood work will again be available through the online health service eVisitNB after being dropped last month.

During the question period Thursday, Fitch said he asked staff to review why blood work was not offered anymore, and confirmed the service would be restored.

“When we see a problem, we see an issue, we’re ready to change it,” he said. “I’m pleased to announce that the service levels for eVisit will revert to the level that they were having prior to April 1.”

Since the beginning of April, doctors and nurse practitioners on the app have been unable to refer patients for blood tests.

The people most affected by this were the 47,000 New Brunswickers on the Patient Connect wait list. Those patients have no access to primary care beyond eVisitNB, walk-in clinics and 811.

The service will be back on Monday.

Fitch said the change was made after feedback and discussion with staff.

Earlier this month, Department of Health spokesperson Sean Hatchard said blood testing requires more in-depth follow-up and should be delivered in person. The lab referrals, available to people who have no health-care providers to see in person, stopped in April.

After Wednesday’s question period in the legislature, Fitch said he was aware that contract negotiations were underway with Maple, the company that was running eVisit, but he said he did not sign off on the reduction of services.

But he said the department staff signed off on the contract, and he would be asking questions.

“I’ve asked the staff to review that,” he said.

A graphic showing a woman in a white doctor's outfit wearing a stethoscope.
Fitch said the decision to restore lab referrals followed feedback and discussion with staff. (eVisitNB)

Impacts 47,000 people

Some New Brunswickers still waiting for a primary-care provider could have some access to primary care through a new program called Health Link.

The Health Department did not respond to questions about how many people are on the Health Link list. Fitch said “many people” have been added to it.

Unlike those on the Patient Connect list, those on Health Link who are assigned a clinic they can call to make an appointment with a provider in-person or over the phone.

Fitch said that when the 47,000 people on Patient Connect were transferred to Health Link, they would be able to access routine health care and would not need eVisit NB for referrals for blood work.

He did not provide a timeline for this transfer of patients.

Man standing up, speaking
Moncton Center MLA Rob McKee said thousands of people in New Brunswick depend on eVisitNB for blood work and primary care needs. (Government of New Brunswick)

Fitch’s comments came after questions from Liberal MLA Rob McKee, who said the thousands of people with no primary care providers have come to rely on eVisitNB. If they don’t live near a walk-in clinic, their only option to get blood work would be the emergency room, he said.

“Does the minister recognize that reducing this service, taking away this service, is going to continue to put a strain on our emergency rooms?” McKee asked.

Fitch said eVisitNB has served 50,000 people in the past year, but it’s a COVID-era service that was not intended for routine use. He said e-Visit is meant for “episodic” needs or issues that aren’t serious enough to warrant an emergency room visit.

People who have doctors shouldn’t be using eVISIT, he said.

When the province announced its new health plan in 2021, the Patient Connect wait-list had about 40,000 people.

Fitch said that number jumped to over 70,000 because of an increase in population, and the province has worked hard to bring that number back down to 40,000.

It’s not clear how many of those 30,000 people removed from the list have found a permanent provider and how many have been transferred to Health Link.