What is a virtual emergency department?

A virtual emergency department is an online alternative to going to the hospital if you think you have a non-life-threatening medical emergency.

There are several virtual emergency departments across Ontario, which you can access from anywhere and avoid long wait times in hospital emergency rooms (ER). To use this service, you will need a computer or tablet with video and microphone capabilities, a mobile phone, and internet access. 

Based on the consultation, the doctor will talk to you about your current health status, any symptoms you are experiencing and your needs. If they decide that an in-person visit is needed instead of a virtual visit, they will advise options and discuss the next steps with you.

When can I use a virtual ER, and how does it work?

If you have a medical condition emergency, you need to discuss it right away but can’t get an appointment with your family doctor or a walk-in clinic, or if you need a prescription filled, you can book an online appointment as quickly as the same day. Once you book the appointment online, you will get an email notification with the details of your virtual visit as well as what you need to prepare for the appointment. You will also choose if you prefer a video or phone call. 

Once the appointment is scheduled, an emergency doctor will contact you to have a 15-20-minute consultation to discuss your concerns. They will give you care instructions that you or your caregiver can do at home and send a prescription to your pharmacy if needed. They will also determine if you need further care from your family doctor, a walk-in clinic, or if you must go to the ER for further assessment.

To book an appointment with a virtual emergency department, you must:

  • be 18 years of age or older
  • have an urgent medical condition that is not life-threatening
  • be physically located in Ontario at the time of the appointment
  • have a valid Ontario health card (OHIP)* 

*If you don’t have a health card, please read Where can I get healthcare if I don’t have OHIP? 

Appointments are usually available Monday-Friday from 9 AM to 9 PM and some weekends. Check locations for their specific times. 

What are considered non-life-threatening conditions?

If you have a condition that is concerning but is not putting your life in danger, you can choose to have a virtual ER appointment. Non-life-threatening conditions are:

  • Headaches or body aches, new muscles/joint stiffness or pain
  • Bites and stings (if you don’t have specific allergies)
  • Rashes
  • Minor skin infections or injuries
  • Worsening of ongoing chronic pain or illnesses
  • Urinary tract infection symptoms
  • Sore throat, cough or cold, nasal congestion or sinus infection 
  • Frostbite/cold injury
  • Sprains and minor injury
  • Fevers
  • Diarrhea
  • Nail infections
  • Prescription renewals
  • Mental health concerns not related to harming yourself or others
  • Painless red eye, eyelid redness or bump
  • Nausea
  • Scabies, lice

Note: This list is not complete. If you have doubts or feel you are in danger, go to an ER for in-person care or call 911 for an ambulance.

When should I go to a hospital ER for in-person care? 

According to the University Health Network’s (UHN) communications department, you should not use the online emergency service and should go to your nearest hospital emergency department if you have the following conditions:

  • Serious injuries and broken bones
  • Bleeding that won’t stop deep cuts or head injuries
  • Heart or lung problems (chest pains, racing heart, problems breathing)
  • Skin abscess (abnormally large pockets of raised red skin)
  • Vomiting and having a hard time drinking or holding down fluids
  • Fever or severe pain that doesn’t improve with over-the-counter pain medication
  • Severe headache that won’t go away or neck stiffness
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing or change in vision
  • Numbness or weakness of the face or body
  • Sudden confusion or memory loss
  • Pregnancy and labour problems

*Note: This list is not complete. If you are in doubt and feel that you need urgent care, go to a hospital near you.

Where do I make an online ER appointment?

To book an appointment, visit the following places that offer virtual ER appointments:

For More Information

  • What you might not know about emergency departments - If you are new to Canada and never been to the ER this article is about what you can expect when visiting an emergency room at your nearest hospital.
  • What to Expect at the ED - Visiting the emergency department (ED) when your child is sick or injured can be overwhelming. These resources can help you prepare for your next visit to the ED with your child. In English and Ukrainian. From ECHO research program. 

Last updated: April 30, 2024 4006538