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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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Road closures as British Columbians brace for more rain

Closures will impact Highway 1, Highway 3 and Highway 99 on Saturday.

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As BC braces for additional rain, the government has ‘proactively’ closed a number of highways for travel.

“We are actively responding, monitoring and assessing the many highway closures due to flooding and will continue to do so as we work with local and emergency service partners,” said the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

“Safety is our top priority while we deal with a rapidly changing and difficult situation.”

Closures will impact Highway 1, Highway 3 and Highway 99 on Saturday. The ministry said the time and duration of the closures will be weather-dependent.

“The highway infrastructure in these areas is extremely vulnerable following recent storms, and more heavy rain in the forecast poses an additional risk,” said the ministry in a press release.

“The closures of these three highways will be re-evaluated on Sunday morning, with the highways reopened when it is safe to do so.”

The release said Highway 1 will be closed between Popkum and Hope on Saturday afternoon as BC Hydro plans a reservoir release, “crucial to protect the Jones Lake Reservoir, which is also being affected by the heavy rains.”

The release explains the reservoir release will discharge water towards areas of Highway 1 that were affected during the November 14 storm.  

“This additional flow – combined with the increased precipitation and already high stream flows – poses a risk of impact to Highway 1 in the Laidlaw area.”

The ministry is bracing for further damage to Highway 1 in this area and said the reopening time cannot be determined at this stage but will be assessed by crews “when it is safe to do so.”

Highway 7 between Mission and Hope remains open with travel restrictions in place. Essential purposes for travel are defined in the travel restrictions order through the Emergency Program Act

Weather statements are in effect for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, Squamish to Whistler and the Sunshine Coast into next week. Storms are expected to bring more rain which has resulted in high streamflow advisories for all regions of the coast by the River Forecast Centre.

Ongoing road and travel updates are available on the ministry’s website.

Melanie Risdon is a reporter with the Western Standard
mrisdon@westernstandardonline.com

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Bill to aid jurors traumatized by testimony up for vote … again

Bill C-206 would amend a 1972 secrecy law to permit jurors to disclose confidential details of deliberations for the purpose of “medical or psychiatric treatment or any therapy or counselling.”

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For the third time in three years, legislators will attempt to pass an aid bill for jurors traumatized by graphic testimony in criminal courts.

“When we ask citizens to be a juror we don’t ask them to be a victim,” said Quebec Senator and bill sponsor Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu.

“There is no excuse not to adopt that bill.” 

Bill C-206 would amend a 1972 secrecy law to permit jurors to disclose confidential details of deliberations for the purpose of “medical or psychiatric treatment or any therapy or counselling,” said Blacklock’s Reporter.

Two identical bills, S-207 and C-417, lapsed in the last two Parliaments.

“That kind of bill should be a government bill, not a private bill,” said Boisvenu.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of private interest. It’s a matter of national interest.”

In 2017, the Commons justice committee recommended the Criminal Code amendment after hearing testimony from former jurors who said they quit jobs, suffered marriage breakdown and were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after being compelled to watch crime scene videos and hear testimony from coroners.

“Everyone’s mental health matters,” Ontario Senator Lucie Moncion said Thursday.

“Yet from a legal point of view, jurors are part of a special category of people who are denied complete health care. The secrecy rule prohibits a juror from disclosing information related to deliberations to anyone including a health care professional. This needs to change.”

Moncion was a juror in a 1989 murder trial and said the experience left her with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“They show you the whole autopsy,” said Moncion.

“It was very difficult. This is still very difficult for me.”

Alberta Conservative MP Michael Cooper, a member of the 2017 Commons justice committee that recommended reforms, said delays were inexcusable.

“It should have been a no-brainer for the government to have brought this bill forward,” said Cooper indicating the bill has been “studied thoroughly.”

“There have literally been no arguments tendered against this piece of legislation.”

Cooper, in 2019, sponsored a similar bill – C-417 – that lapsed. MPs at the time noted U.S. jurors were free to discuss their experience with friends, family, psychiatrists or media.

“In the United States once a trial is over jurors are generally free to discuss the events of the trial and jury deliberations unless a specific court order bars them from doing so,” said Ontario Liberal MP Arif Virani, then-parliamentary secretary for justice.

“What that means is that jurors in the United States can talk with nearly anyone about juror deliberations including a talk show host on national television or across the Internet. This approach, which offers limited protection for juror privacy, is significantly different from the Canadian model.”

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Lock-down ignoring party host arrested again in Vancouver

“Let this be a lesson to anyone who thinks the rules don’t apply to them,” said Sergeant Steve Addison, VPD.

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A man arrested by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) earlier this year for running a “makeshift nightclub” from his downtown penthouse has been convicted of new charges.

Mohammad Movassaghi was initially sentenced to 18 months probation in April, along with 50 hours of community service after pleading guilty in BC provincial court on counts of violating a public health order and selling liquor.

The 43-year-old man hosted hundreds of party-goers to his 1,100 square-foot penthouse near Richards Street and Georgia Street, equipped with cash machines, menus, and doormen.

VPD officers arrived at one of the parties on January 31 after a “witness” reported the event. One of the alleged doormen was issued several fines, however Movassaghi refused to open the door and was defiant with police. Officers returned early Sunday morning with a search warrant and subsequently issued over $17,000 in fines for violations contrary to the Emergency Program Act.

Large quantities of cash were seized as well.

“Let this be a lesson to anyone who thinks the rules don’t apply to them,” said VPD Sgt. Steve Addison, following the January 31 arrest.

“If you are caught hosting or attending a party during the pandemic, and continue to break the rules, you could face stiff fines or wind up in jail.”

Of Addisons’ top concerns was the fact that “none of them were wearing masks.”

A GoFundMe was set up shortly after Movassaghi’s arrest, which stated he’d lost $15,000 in cash and liquor.

The campaign was shut down before it reached $300.

Judge Ellen Gordon compared Movassaghi’s actions with those of a drug dealer, specifically fentanyl — a synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than morphine. Her logic being COVID-19 can kill people, and so can fentanyl. Therefore there is “no difference.”

“What you did, sir, is comparable to individuals who sell fentanyl to the individuals on the street who die every day. There’s no difference. You voluntarily assumed a risk that could kill people in the midst of a pandemic,” said Gordon.

Fast forward to August and Movassaghi had violated the court orders again when he began hosting more parties in his penthouse, prompting a second VPD investigation leading to his arrest on Wednesday night.

He has since plead guilty of two counts of failure to comply with an order of the health officer and one count of selling liquor, says VPD.

Movassaghi has now been sentenced to 29 days in custody, 12 months of probation, and a $10,000 fine — leaving many wondering if he will switch up the location for his next party, possibly somewhere more discreet.

Reid Small is a BC-based reporter for the Western Standard
rsmall@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter.com/reidsmall

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