Private RSV testing fee in Vancouver could be a barrier for some

As we continue to hear headlines about children stricken with respiratory illnesses overwhelming ERs and ICUs, and as parents are desperate to ensure their kids will be okay, a Vancouver-based company says it is offering a solution.

RockDoc is allowing patients to “skip the waiting room” by launching a private testing service for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), one of the viruses responsible for the so-called tripledemic.

The cost of the rapid RSV test is just under $60. The company’s president says it is a simple swab at their Vancouver clinic and then a two-hour wait for results. You even have the option to book a tele-health visit with one of their doctors afterward, covered by the provincial medical system.

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Dr. Sam Gutman tells CityNews the service launched Monday, is Health Canada approved, and fills a need.

“Our focus is providing Canadians with choice and information, and providing services they need. This service is not available to people in a timely fashion — or at all — so we are offering it to people who need the information to help make decisions on how they are going to manage their own families.”

Gutman says RockDoc’s clients had asked for testing and the company was able to identify approved RSV kits that are useable within accredited facilities.

“I hear that there are prolonged waits at hospitals and clinics and everyone is aware of the challenges with accessing family physicians. As far as the testing goes, we are offering what people are asking for and providing them the information and the support that they need,” he said.

But a public health researcher with UBC and Harvard has reservations about offering RSV testing for a fee.

“We’ve been talking a lot, in this province, about families who are reeling from the high cost of food, housing, daycare, transportation, extra-curricular programs — this is just going to add another burden to families who are desperately in need of care, particularly families who have a child at high risk,” said Dr. Farah Shroff, the founder of Maternal and Infant Health Canada, a global public health collaborative.

She points out the service might be a great option for parents who can afford it but suggests it feeds into a larger problem.

“There’s something called universal healthcare — UHC — which we study all over the world. What we know is that access matters, and it really matters for kids. When we start providing a two-tiered system, that is when we start seeing differences in health outcomes,” Shroff explained.

“We see worse outcomes for children who don’t have good access to care. It’s as simple as that. We’re talking about immigrant kids, kids from lower income families, kids with disabilities where that already places a greater financial burden on their family, kids who are already marginalized in many ways.”

Shroff recognizes access to RSV testing at family doctors and hospitals can be difficult right now, but says it is available through the public system.

“They can go and get tested elsewhere. I can say the good thing the Ministry of Health has done is really try to take care of our primary care better. We have a payment model that is going to improve access to our family physicians. Will it affect kids sick with the flu in December of 2022? Maybe not yet. But maybe next year we will see improvements in primary care, and that is where the testing really should be done.”

In the meantime, Gutman says RockDoc supports the public system but is fulfilling a demand for this kind of testing. He adds the service is off to a strong start.

“Like everyone else, we are looking for solutions to try to help people take care of themselves and take care of their families.”

So far, RockDoc only offers RSV testing at one accredited clinic in south Vancouver but is looking to expand.

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