New walk-in clinic filling health-care void

Pharmacist Ehab Meshrif arrived in Sarnia and was surprised to discover it lacked a walk-in clinic. He and fellow pharmacist Tamer El Mewafy recently opened one on Murphy Road. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

A new walk-in clinic has opened in Sarnia, offering an alternate health-care option for patients with minor complaints or in need of referrals.

“When I came to Sarnia, I was surprised there was no walk-in clinic in a city this size,” said pharmacist Ehab Meshrif, co-owner of Wiltshire Pharmacy Remedy’s RX on Murphy Road, where the clinic is located.

He and fellow pharmacist Tamer El Mewafy opened their independent pharmacy last year and made the decision this winter to add an examination room, hire a medical assistant and invest in telemedicine video equipment, which provides real-time patient-doctor clinical consultation.

The clinic opened March 24 and patients began arriving the first day. To date, as many as 20 patients a day see a doctor, waiting on average 40 minutes to an hour.

“Without a walk-in clinic there’s been a huge burden on Sarnia’s ER,” said Meshrif. “And patients who aren’t that sick have had to wait five or six hours at the hospital to see a doctor.

“I could see this was needed here.”

At one time, Sarnia had a walk-in clinic at the London Road Diagnostic Centre. But that has changed to an after-hours clinic strictly for the patients of a specific group of doctors.

But anyone over the age of four can now go to the Wiltshire Pharmacy Walk-In Clinic. On arrival, they provide their medical history to a telemedicine assistant, which in this case is an international medical graduate who has practiced medicine in another country and is waiting licensing in Canada.

The patient is escorted into the examination room where he or she is introduced to a telemedicine doctor on a video screen. The doctor, who is physically in Ottawa or Toronto, can see and talk to the patient with a camera.

“The assistant here is like the doctor’s hands,” explained Meshrif.  “The patient can speak to the doctor they see on the screen and answer his questions.

“If the doctor requires anything like blood pressure, the assistant will do it.”

The videoconferencing is confidential and is like seeing a doctor in person, although geography separates doctor and patient, said Meshrif.

Some restrictions apply, as the clinic does not accept emergency patients, patients in need of narcotics or controlled substance renewals, or children under four years.

Meshrif said he hopes to lift the age restriction in the future.

Patients can be treated and prescribed medication for a wide range of ailments including diabetes, earaches and thyroid problems. Telemedicine physicians can order prescriptions, make referrals to specialists and order tests.

The Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) provides the doctors who see patients by videoconferencing in Sarnia. The OTN is an independent, not-for-profit funded by the Ontario government and is one of the largest networks of connected care providers in the world.

Its website says it is used in Ontario at 1,748 sites.

Meshrif said he is confident the walk-in clinic will be busy. But he added the pharmacy won’t be able to sustain the cost of operating it unless patients fill their prescriptions there.

“It’s the only way to make the business model work,” he said.

The new walk-in clinic is located in the Wiltshire Plaza at 940 Murphy Rd. It’s open noon to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday;  Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Appointments are possible by calling or texting 519-491-1922.