Virtual Health – Future of Telemedicine in Canada:

We, as a country, are in the process of integrating technology to create a more patient-centered health care model in a way that supports better care. A critical part of that process is engaging patients and healthcare providers in virtual care. Understanding how virtual care will solve problems, and to embrace new ideas as opportunities are key to improving patient care.

Also, as the demand on the health care system in Canada increases, health care providers are looking at new ways to coordinate care delivery, reduce wait times and find cost efficiencies. Secure messaging, mobile healthcare applications and virtual monitoring are just some of the solutions being introduced. As a result, the benefits of mobile health and virtual health initiatives are gaining popularity as cost-efficient solutions that respond to Canadians’ demands for increased access and convenience of care.

Some Canadian provinces already have telemedicine systems in place. For example, British Columbia pays for virtual consults by doctors. In Ontario, patients can call Telehealth, and those in certain areas can use Medvisit or MDHome Call to see a doctor, covered by OHIP, in their home. And of course, many primary care providers and specialists across the country also already correspond with their patients through the phone or by secure message/email. The new offerings on the market, however, differ in that they’re paid for by the clients, allowing them to reach out to medically trained professional in an accessible manner at a nominal fee.

A recent Commonwealth Fund survey ranked Canada second-last when they looked at whether patients could get an appointment within a day, and last on access to after-hours and weekend care. With these issues, it is apparent that there’s a demand among clients for efficient and better access, and these apps in part are helping solve two most stubborn problems in primary care: timely access and after-hours availability

Critics suggest that virtual health only helps provide episodic care through apps and platforms, and clients face gaps in continuity of care. They say that it might be a better idea is to offer primary care providers helping their patients over the phone or without needing to see that person face to face. Because they have access to their complete records, they know the story, they know what they’ve presented with in the past. It’s often very difficult to get that record from a patient’s memory, which may be the case with virtual care apps or portals. Another frequent critique of this model is that paying for healthcare advice might pose an ethical issue for Canadians, a country that provides provincially covered health services. 

Those who make and use the apps and such services though believe that the apparent gap within the publicly funded healthcare system is being filled by on-demand services that allow virtual health appointments. And clients simply love them because they tend to make life a bit easy. 

The reality is that sometimes it can take weeks to get an appointment to see your family doctor, or you can end up waiting for hours at a local walk-in clinic to see a nurse practitioner to help your toddler deal with a nasty fever. It’s in those times that we tend to think about alternatives such as virtual health. 

In fact, various studies show that from treating minor injuries to common illnesses such as bites/bruises, sinus infections, respiratory infections etc., telemedicine and virtual health are clinically effective. Obviously, virtual healthcare is not supposed to replace your family doctor or meant for emergencies (we should still be calling 911 for that!), but it can definitely provide additional support when life gets busy. 

And when technology is changing how we communicate, travel, bank and even buy groceries, why is it that we are so afraid to allow it to change healthcare? Perhaps this question needs to explored a bit more! 

How do you feel about virtual care? Would you consider seeing a doctor or nurse online? Let us know your thoughts by email: [email protected]

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