The best thing we can say about COVID-19 is that it opened the world up to new ways of connecting and providing services. Many industries embraced video conferencing and technology, including medicine. Dr. Kate Greenaway, an expert in trans health, was one of the people who understood those opportunities. Just prior to the pandemic, she created a virtual medical clinic to support and enhance access to gender-affirming care across the province.
“I started Connect-Clinic in 2019. There are increasingly good options for people in urban centres, particularly Toronto, but in rural areas and smaller urban centres, it’s hard for people to find doctors who have the knowledge to effectively provide gender-affirming care,” says Dr. Greenaway. “By using technology, we were able to help people from across the province access expert care.”
During the pandemic, demand for the clinic’s services exploded. Many people had time to reflect on their gender identities and many people looked to virtual services to reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19. Dr. Greenaway explains, “We went from one doctor to seven. Our wait times, despite this, have grown. We get 100-200 referrals or self-referrals per month. Two thirds of our patients are in rural or remote communities where no meaningful alternative gender affirming care service exists.”
The clinic, and others like it, played an important role in expanding equal access to important health care services. Both in-person and online services are valuable, and the Connect-Clinic model was set to continue until changes to the Physician Services Act were announced that made it impossible to continue. In March 2022, the Ontario Medical Association issued a news release announcing that “Ontario’s doctors have ratified a new three-year agreement with the province”. The announcement lauded the inclusion of “[a] permanent framework for virtual care by telephone and video, where appropriate.”