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UPDATED: Alberta Medical Association and doctors raise concerns with TELUS Babylon App

However, “notwithstanding these safeguards, while outside of Canada, personal data may be accessible by foreign government agencies under applicable law.”

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AMA president Christine Molnar released a statement Saturday saying the AMA was not involved in consultations and is receiving information at the same time as the general public.

TELUS Babylon released its app March 19 in partnership of the Alberta government.

“Alberta is pleased to partner with TELUS to deliver physician services in a new way. This app is now available and ready for use in Alberta thanks to an alternative relationship plan, and it comes at a time when our health system is actively asking people to self-isolate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said in a release March 19.

“Using this app is an alternative to visiting physicians face-to-face when you’re not sure if your symptoms are related to the novel coronavirus or at any other time.”

The Alberta government also offered to compensate family physicians providing virtual care in the province on March 18 – at $20 per consultation – a rate the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association (EZMSA) says is the lowest in Canada.

“On March 18, 2020, the government first allowed doctors to provide broad virtual cary by telephone, email and videoconference when possible, to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” read a statement by EZMSA on social media.

“The fee is capped at $20 per patient/ per doctor/ per day, for all doctors, regardless of the time spent.”

In Alberta, family doctors bill $41 for an in-person visit under 15 minutes and up to $59 for longer visits, according to EZMSA, who also charted virtual care rates in other provinces and found Alberta’s rate is anywhere from 16 per cent to 88 per cent less.

The new $20 rate is also $18 less than Alberta government agreed to pay TELUS Babylon physicians – who are to receive $38 per virtual patient consult.

A request was sent to the Minister of Health seeking clarification regarding the contract rates for physicians through TELUS Babylon and the differential for physicians already established in Alberta communities.

In a letter posted on Facebook, a physician from Peace River said theat she was “beyond frustrated”.

“Family physicians have been begging the health minister to allow us to provide virtual care to our patients so that we can keep our vulnerable patients at home and promote social distancing. We want to be able to provide high quality care even if our patients or ourselves are in self-isolation,” Dr. Heather Shonoski wrote.

Shonoski said doctors at the clinic in Peace River contacted TELUS to ask about access to the system and were told they cannot see their own patients.

“We want to provide continuity of care, which has been proven to save lives and minimize resource use… If we could see our own patients we could do our own follow-up or arrange cross-coverage with proper handover to a colleague in our own community. This would minimize the risk of medical error.”

At this time, physicians using the TELUS Babylon platform do not have access to provincial medical records.

A further potential issue with the Babylon project comes from the terms and conditions.

Dr. Amir Pakdel, an Edmonton area medical doctor, posted screenshots of the terms and conditions on Twitter.

Dr. Pakdel states that users “should be aware that Babylon is a multinational conglomerate corporation, funded by foreign countries – most notably Saudi Arabia – who owns a large part of the app.”

“There are alternative Canadian” options available, he said, that are not being marketed by the Alberta government such as Maple, a Canadian owned and operated app “that delivers the same virtual care services.”

“The Bablyon app records your video consultation and saves it on their servers. When was the last time you allowed a doctor to record your office visit where you share your most confidential personal information?” He asked.

“By using Babylon, you also agree to allow Babylon Health software developers to use your ‘medical record’, ‘transcripts’, and ‘recordings of your consultations'”.

The terms say that Babylon “may share your personal data with members of our corporate group and our partners” as well as “companies we have hired to provide services on our behalf”. It also states that such “data processors are bound by strict confidentiality and data security provisions and they can only use your data in the ways specified by us.”

However, “notwithstanding these safeguards, while outside of Canada, personal data may be accessible by foreign government agencies under applicable law.”

Alberta’s Ministry of Health did not return a request for comment before publication.

UPDATE: Premier Jason Kenney said during a press conference on Monday afternoon that the U.K. and British Columbia have been using TELUS-Babylon without privacy issues for longer than Alberta.

The Alberta government also added new billing codes to assure doctors are paid equally for virtual visits, including established physicians in Alberta communities.

“We’re helping physicians provide care to Albertans during this critical time while also keeping them as safe as possible,” said Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

“Virtual care codes will facilitate patient care while making it possible to follow public health guidelines of maintaining social distance and self-isolation.”

The services available for billing include telephone or through a secure form of video conferencing by all Alberta physicians.

“These new virtual care codes will make it possible for physicians to deliver care safely and effectively to patients during the pandemic,” said president of the Alberta Medical Association Dr. Christine P. Molnar.

“These codes apply not only for COVID-19 care but for all the physical and mental health needs of patients as they present every day.”

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a Senior Reporter with Western Standard
dmaclean@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter @Mitchell_AB

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Support for truckers needed to get supplies to Canadian destinations

There are currently 9,663 cases of COVID-19 in Canada with 2,204 cases from B.C. to Manitoba.

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Truck drivers are still working to ensure our store shelves are filled and fresh produce is available – and they need supports too.

News reports of truck drivers being denied access to washrooms and food at drive-thrus have been noted around the country.

Alberta Transportation has reopened a number of highway rest stops along Highway 2 but asked that drivers carry their own toilet paper and hand sanitizer in case the rest stop is out.

The province closed a number of rest stop washrooms as “cost saving measures’ in October but have since reopened some along common transport routes to accommodate drivers who must be on the roads to deliver goods.

“Keeping these washrooms open is a priority as the trucking industry and the movement of goods is crucially important,” Alberta Transportation said.

The Alberta Motor Transportation Association has provided a new rest stop database on their website for drivers who are still making the trips along Alberta highways and some restaurants such as McDonald’s are offering curbside delivery to drivers who cannot go through a drive-thru.

Jeff, a driver who runs from Calgary to Medicine Hat, AB, says the traffic has dropped and is mostly trucks now.

“I feel for the drivers who are far from home. I see many at the rest stops overnight and I wonder if they have food or a restroom break or a shower,” he said.

Advocates have been trying to raise awareness of the needs of drivers who may be on the road for long periods and leadership is taking a stand.

“Trucking is an essential service — that’s not the opinion of the Manitoba Trucking Association, that’s the opinion of the Prime Minister of Canada,” Prime Minister Trudeau said on March 18.

Provinces across the country have asked businesses to do what they can to accommodate drivers who are bringing necessary goods to towns and cities across the country.

Social media users are encouraged to use the hashtag #thankatrucker with their stories and thanks to those who are working to ensure we have everything we need here at home.

Alberta

Alberta announced 117 new cases Wednesday, bringing the province’s total to 871.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Albertas Chief Medical Officer of Health, also reported two additional deaths in the province.

There are 41 cases of COVID-19 at long-term or continuing care centres in the province.

Additional information for Alberta residents can be found here.

British Columbia

B.C. reported 53 new cases bringing its total to 1,066.

There are 22 care homes in the province with positive cases, up from 19 Tuesday.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.s health official, announced one new death, for a total of 25 COVID-19 related deaths in the province to date.

Additional information for B.C. residents can be found here.

Manitoba

The province announced 24 new cases on Wednesday bringing the province’s total to 127.

Four individuals have been hospitalized and three of those are in intensive care.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin says public health officials have begun to see community transmission in Winnipeg.

“Public health investigations have not been able to confirm several cases to travel or other confirmed cases. We knew to expect this as more cases are introduced in a jurisdiction, community transmission is going to be inevitable.”

Additional information for Manitoba residents can be found here.

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan identified nine new cases on Wednesday bringing the province’s total to 193.

The province also recognized the COVID-related death of a third resident.

Eight cases in the province cannot be traced either to travel or known cases.

At this time, Dr, Saqib Shahab, Chief Medical Health Officer for the province, said aside from the four individuals in hospital, all other cases are recovering at home.

Additional information for Saskatchewan residents can be found here.

Provincial tallies:

  • Quebec: 4,611 confirmed and presumptive cases, including 1 recovered and 33 deaths
  • Ontario: 2,392 cases including 501 recovered and 37 deaths
  • British Columbia: 1,013 confirmed cases including 507 recovered and 24 deaths
  • Alberta: 871 confirmed cases including 120 recovered and 11 deaths
  • Saskatchewan: 193 confirmed cases including 30 recovered and 3 deaths
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 175 confirmed cases and 1 death
  • Nova Scotia: 173 confirmed and presumptive cases
  • Manitoba: 127 confirmed cases including 4 recovered and 1 death
  • New Brunswick: 81 confirmed and presumptive cases
  • Prince Edward Island: 21 confirmed cases, and 3 recovered
  • Yukon: 5 confirmed cases
  • Northwest Territories: 1 confirmed case
  • Nunavut: 0 cases

There are currently 9,663 cases of COVID-19 in Canada with 2,204 cases from B.C. to Manitoba.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a Senior Reporter with Western Standard
dmaclean@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter @Mitchell_AB

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Key climate change talks cancelled by coronavirus

“We will continue to work with all involved to increase climate ambition, build resilience and lower emissions.”

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A gathering of world experts on climate change set for Glasgow later this year has been cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.

COP26 was to have been the most important climate change meeting since Paris in 2015 where world leaders laid out their country’s goals in cutting carbon emissions.

The meeting with 26,000 attendees was to have been held in November but has been put back to 2021.

“In light of the ongoing, worldwide effects of COVID-19, holding an ambitious, inclusive COP26 in November 2020 is no longer possible,” said a statement issued Wednesday night by the British government.

“We will continue to work with all involved to increase climate ambition, build resilience and lower emissions.”

COP26 President-Designate and British Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma said: “The world is currently facing an unprecedented global challenge and countries are rightly focusing their efforts on saving lives and fighting COVID-19. That is why we have decided to reschedule COP26.

“We will continue working tirelessly with our partners to deliver the ambition needed to tackle the climate crisis and I look forward to agreeing a new date for the conference.”

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said:” Covid-19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term.

“Soon, economies will restart. This is a chance for nations to recover better, to include the most vulnerable in those plans, and a chance to shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, just, safe and more resilient.”

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard

dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com

Twitter: @Nobby76794

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U.S. Intelligence says China’s COVID numbers are “fake”

As the rate of infection continues to rise in other countries, it’s looking more like China’s reports are the ones that don’t add up.

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With more than twice as many cases being reported in the U.S., speculation about China’s reporting was already mainstream; now two U.S. officials say that a recently submitted “report concludes that China’s numbers are fake.”

The report was submitted to the White House last week the sources told Bloomberg.

China has claimed only 82,000 cases with 3,300 deaths – since the first cases appeared in late 2019 – while the U.S. has reported over 190,000 cases and 4,133 deaths since the first case was identified on March 5, 2020.

Knowing what we do now, that the virus spreads rapidly once it appears – and that China did not declare an emergency situation until mid-January – its claims are not in line with what other countries are experiencing.

Both Spain and Italy have healthcare systems in crisis. Spain has over 100,000 cases and has reported more than 9,000 deaths while Italy has just over 105,000 cases and has reported 12,000 deaths.

On Tuesday, the State Department immunologist advising the White House on its COVID response, Dr. Deborah Birx, said the data from China influenced responses to a potential outbreak.

“I think the medical community … interpreted the Chinese data as: This was serious, but smaller than anyone expected,” she said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

“I think when you look at the China data originally, and you said ‘there’s 80 million people, or 20 million people in Wuhan and 80 million people in Hubei (province)’, and they come up with the number of 50,000 (cases), you start thinking this is more like SARS than.. a global pandemic.”

Birx said that the data from Italy and Spain is likely a better indicator of what should be expected.

Canada and the U.S. had access to better data from Spain and Italy by the time the virus showed up in their own countries, but the inconsistency in reporting from China at first made Italy seem like an outlier. As the rate of infection continues to rise in other countries, it’s looking more like China’s reports are the ones that don’t add up.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a Senior Reporter with Western Standard
dmaclean@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter @Mitchell_AB

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