SASKATOON -- Dr. Carla Holinaty is doing almost all of her visits over the phone in the age of COVID-19.

“We have to adapt, right? It’s something that’s new for us and new for patients and so we’re all figuring that out as we go,” said Holinaty, a Saskatoon family physician.

“I think patients have been very, very, receptive to it. I haven't had a single patient yet be upset that they were given the opportunity to have a visit by phone.”

If a person requires a physical exam or seems quite ill, she’ll still see them in person. Family medicine covers a wide range of issues, however - mental health counselling, prescription refills, follow-ups with people with chronic diseases such as diabetes - and doctors can effectively manage those by phone, she said.

Virtual care billing codes have been in the works for years and were already coming close to being implemented before COVID-19 made them a necessity, she said. There is now a proof of concept that phone and video visits work in family medicine for patients and care providers, and could continue even after the virus is brought under control, she said.

Holinaty also stresses the importance of physical distancing. Eighty per cent of people infected with COVID-19 have a mild infection that can be managed with over the counter Tylenol, fluids and self-isolation. Others may show no symptoms at all.

Those people could rapidly spread COVID-19 to their friends, neighbours and store workers if they’re out in the community. Even if relatively few people require hospital care, that could still be a huge number if 30 per cent of the population - or up to 80 per cent - become infected, she said.

“We need people to stay away from each other so that the people who do have the virus aren’t infecting other people, so that we can protect everyone and give our health care workers a chance at being able to deal with the number of sick people that happen all at once, so we can spread that out.”