Lumeca Health is Making Healthcare Accessible to All

By Tina Costanza

Lumeca Health first took root inside Shawn Hazen’s company and it’s now expanding outside Saskatchewan and formed a partnership with Cowessess First Nation to provide people with greater access to healthcare.

Based in Regina, Lumeca Health offers an app that serves as a virtual consultation tool, connecting patients to doctors. With backing from the Government of Saskatchewan, Lumeca is available for free to residents of the province who have a valid health card.

Available for the web, iPhone and Android platforms, the app enables its users to talk to a doctor by either text, audio or video, chat live with nurses and doctors, and even request a prescription refill at their local pharmacy. All a patient has to do is open the app, briefly describe what he or she needs help with, and a doctor or nurse will be assigned to him or her within minutes. The medical professional may then ask the patient to describe any symptoms or ask him or her other questions to help reach a diagnosis. If the doctor can help, he or she will develop a treatment plan for the patient. The doctor can also advise the patient on where to seek specialist help, if required.

More specifically, the doctors can advise Lumeca Health users on everything from acne and allergies to bites and stings, to urinary tract infections and yeast infections. The doctors are licensed to practise family and emergency medicine, and they either work in a practice or own their practice and work in a hospital, as well.

The doctors are paid for their services by Lumeca via the Medical Services Branch, similar to how most medical clinics operate in Saskatchewan.

The Lumeca Health app can only be used in Canada, and the company adheres to its laws, such as the Health Information Act, Freedom of Information Act, and Protection of Privacy Act, to protect patient information.

In the beginning

Hazen founded Lumeca Health in 2016.

“Lumeca was actually born inside another company I founded when I was 22,” Hazen explains. “It’s an industrial and occupational health and safety company that operates across Canada that provides on-site nurses and paramedics to remote access work sites in the mining, industrial and oil industry. We struggled in that industry, just like the public do to have good access to healthcare. A lot of times at the work sites that we worked on that had 3,000 people working out there, we very much became their occupational and non-occupational health-care arm. People need doctors.”

It was challenging and expensive to bring the doctors to the site, however, so it occurred to Hazen one day to connect doctors and patients virtually.

“I said, ‘Doc, can you just call the site and chat with our nurse and just liaise with the patient like that?’ And them texting became a thing and then FaceTime became a thing.”

Hazen’s background is as a paramedic. He thought, “Well we don’t really have a systematic approach to offer safe, simple and secure healthcare, it just kind of MacGyvers through texting and FaceTime with no record, no care planning, no security or privacy, no protocols or anything like that. So my health-care hat came on and we started to design and architect the platform and started to build the first version of the application. (Lumeca Health) was born inside my other company from seeing a need first-hand for improving access to healthcare.”

A North American first

Lumeca Health has improved Cowessess First Nation’s access to healthcare. The company brought physician care to patients through the launch of its Health Pod, a first in North America. The pod, equipped with cameras, microphones and a touchscreen, allows patients to access a doctor live and within minutes of entering the pod.

The health pod is located in the Cowessess First Nation Health Department.

“Two-thirds of the members of Cowessess don’t have smart devices. They don’t have Internet, they don’t have these resources. They don’t have that access,” Hazen explains. “We installed the smart Wi-Fi system at the band office for them and at the mall, so that we could actually deliver a broader reach of free Wi-Fi to them.”

This means some of the members who do have a smart device can pull up to the band office or the mall — “kind of like a drive-in Wi-Fi zone,” as Hazen describes it — and use their phone to download and use the app.

“But for those who don’t have a smart device or Internet, we felt it was a really good partnership to be able to put the pod in their health centre, which is managed by one of their nurse practitioners,” says Hazen. “The continuity of care is there. The patients are used to seeing a nurse practitioner. Right now they are struggling to bring doctors in obviously with the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve been able to bridge that gap by bringing the pod in and those people are now able to see a doctor within a few minutes alongside their regular medical appointments.”

The impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have sparked an increase in users of Lumeca Health’s app.

“Initially, there was a huge onset of use and downloads when people were quarantined,” says Hazen. “Things are still very busy and steady, but there definitely was a peak during what I’ll call ‘the hot phase’ of COVID, when people were scared and quarantined, and not leaving home for anything but still needed to see a doctor.”

One of the things Hazen also noticed before the pandemic and after it’s “hot phase” died down was that the people who would not necessarily have used virtual healthcare before COVID-19 that had to use it during the pandemic are “now understanding what we were doing and what virtual care is about.”

“They’re now some of our biggest advocates,” Hazen adds. “Unless they’re dying, they don’t really want to go to the hospital or to a clinic, because they see it’s not required to drive and wait in a waiting room and do all that stuff. We’ve seen the usership go up just from that, as well. People are more familiar and comfortable with the service.”

Hazen would rather keep private the precise number of people who have downloaded the app so far, but does reveal it’s been “thousands and thousands.”

Arriving at those numbers has involved a challenge or two. Hazen cites a lack of precedence, or pathway to follow, when it comes to building something new.

“It’s such a big space and there’s a lot of moving parts,” says Hazen. “When you’re trying to build a product that is essentially a service to help people with their healthcare in multiple jurisdictions that has multiple layers of different regulatory frameworks and policies and laws that you have to follow, it’s a complex system to build from a medical standpoint. And you’re dealing with different licensing bodies and different healthcare authorities and medical associations. There’s a lot of unknowns that we’re still figuring out; not only Lumeca, but even our competitors — we’re figuring a lot of things out.”

Lumeca Health is only available to residents of Saskatchewan, but it plans to expand to other provinces.

“We were going outward literally a couple of weeks prior to the COVID-19 pandemic being officially announced,” says Hazen. “Then we pivoted quickly and we were all hands on deck and focused 100 per cent on Saskatchewan. And now we are continuing with our expansion plans and providing greater and greater access to healthcare.”