A new mobile app intended to help Nova Scotians get better access to health care and related resources was unveiled in Halifax on Wednesday.
The YourHealthNS app allows people to book services, find the best care options for their specific needs, and to access information and resources no matter where they are in the province.
Through the app, Nova Scotians can book blood tests, x-rays, flu shots, and COVID-19 vaccine appointments. It also includes access to predicted emergency department wait times and vaccination records.
In addition, there’s a search tool to pinpoint closest health services, and the option to chat with a “care navigator” who can help patients determine what services or information they need.
‘Will significantly move the needle’
“As a provider, I regularly field calls from people wondering where the best place to seek access for a specific problem is, where there is capacity,” Central Zone emergency department physician Dr. Matthew Clarke told reporters during Wednesday’s launch.
“And so I think this gives us an incredibly powerful tool to empower Nova Scotians around the various avenues. There are many avenues in our province right now to seek care that I think many people are unaware of.”
Even if patients know about virtual care, mobile clinics, and options for care at pharmacies, Clarke said it can be challenging to track down nearby locations, where you might be seen more quickly, and where your needs will best be met.
“So even if you do know, it can still be a little bit cumbersome for Nova Scotians,” Clarke said.
“I think our ability to put all of this information in one location so you can go to one place, see all the care options available for you, and then in many cases book the appointment either directly or with a single link, I think is incredibly powerful for Nova Scotians and our province. So I think it will significantly move the needle.”
‘Firmly believe Nova Scotians will love it’
The app also provides access to free, same-day virtual care. Via the app, Nova Scotians who have a primary care provider can now access two free virtual care visits for general consults and prescription refills through Maple. Those on the ‘Need a Family Practice Registry’ who are without a primary health care provider will continue to have unlimited access to virtual care.
The app was described as a “game changer” by Scott McKenna, chief information officer for Nova Scotia Health and IWK Health,
“I firmly believe Nova Scotians will love it,” McKenna said.
“You’ll be able to help someone else in your family in another part of the province at a distance to navigate to the services they’re looking for today. That’s a game changer.”
McKenna said the current release of the app came with a $10 million price tag. Although it’s currently only available in English, they’re looking at future releases in other languages. With concerns about cybersecurity given the breach that occurred earlier this year, he told reporters that necessary measures were in place to protect people’s health records.
‘There’s an app for that’
Premier Tim Houston said the app puts “power in the hands of patients.”
“We can’t underestimate the positive impact this will have on Nova Scotians of just having a go-to starting point,” Houston said.
With health care access points that include pharmacy and mobile clinics, as well as virtual care options, Houston said this is a way to ensure people get directed to appropriate care.
“When you go on to this app and you ask a few questions, it will start to direct you as to the most effective, efficient way for you to get the care that you need,” Houston said.
He also added that the app will help people understand their options.
“Today’s announcement is about making sure that families, and that everyone who asks any of us who are connected to health care or in an elected position, where do I access the care I need?…After today, the answer is, ‘There’s an app for that,’” Houston said to applause.
‘We’ll continue to learn’
Tara Sampalli, Nova Scotia Health’s senior director, global health systems planning, said the app underwent “a lot” of beta testing before its launch. She added that feedback from all users will continue to inform its development. Everything from the chosen colours and font sizes to location of navigation buttons were all informed by clinicians, providers, and members of the public.
“They have actually used the app. They’ve told us what needs to change and we’ll continue to learn,” Sampalli said. “So we have a group of people that will continue to work with us. This includes patients (and the) public.”
As of Oct. 1, 144,467 Nova Scotians were on the province’s Need a Family Practice Registry seeking access to a physician or nurse practitioner.