DAWSON CREEK -- The emergency room at the Dawson Creek Hospital is getting a hand for the next nine days. 

The Real Time Virtual Supports Program (RTVS) is an initiative of the Rural Coordination Centre of BC, in collaboration with BC doctors, and the First Nations Health Authority.

The service began helping physicians and nurses treat patients in the ER Monday .

The RTVS provides doctors and nurses second opinions about a patient's condition, helps them navigate the healthcare system , and provides ongoing patient support.

"RUDi stands for Rural Urgent Doctor in aide." Says Dr. Brydon Blacklaws, co-lead of RTVS,  "we're essentially a virtual emergency physician group that covers not only Dawson Creek, but any small community that wants to call. We provide a physician 24/7 who can focus on your community or other communities."

Dr. John Pawlovich -a rural doctor, who also leads the project, says the program's goal is to bring rural healthcare providers and residents in remote communities together.

This is especially good news to communities like Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge, who face ongoing emergency room and hospital closures, often forcing residents to Dawson Creek and Fort St. John for emergency care. 

"We want to help patients get the best care in that moment in time, irrespective of where they are around the province." Dr Pawlovich adds, "We want to do that by supporting health care providers on the ground, wherever they are."

There are a number of free medical services that are available to help patients as long as they have been recommended by a health care professional.

The HEiDi group provides assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week by addressing patients' concerns and arranging virtual meetings or phone calls with a remote physician.

Dr. Blacklaws says supporting rural places has been an issue for a long time, and he is excited to be at the cutting edge of virtual and Telehealth services, helping communities like Dawson Creek.

The online service will be available until July 29, covering staff shortages the hospital has had trouble filling.

RTVS is a collaboration of Rural Coordination Centre of BC (supported by the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues), First Nations Health Authority, Provincial Health Services Authority, Providence Health Care, BC Emergency Medicine Network, and UBC Department of Emergency Medicine.

For more information, visit https://rccbc.ca/rtvs/