Is virtual care here to stay?

TELUS Health Annual Conference 2020

An increasing number of health care professionals are offering care virtually. Patient response has been positive and the measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have had an accelerating effect on the use of virtual platforms.

In a TELUS Health Annual Conference webinar held on June 3, Dr. Van Hoa Phong Le provided a comprehensive overview of the current state and future possibilities of virtual healthcare.

“The reason virtual healthcare will never disappear is because of the extraordinary response from patients,” stated Dr. Le. “Patients have adopted these tools. Those who have consulted virtually for the first time tend to come back because it’s so convenient,” he said. 

Dr. Le’s comments are supported by an insightful analysis of data from a 2019 study carried out by the Canadian Medical Association. Canadians, in general, are well aware of the benefits of online care, the study states, and they believe that virtual care will improve access to healthcare services in general.

Access to medical information.

The study does, however, highlight some legitimate concerns that Canadians have about the use of virtual health care. But in this regard, Dr. Le noted that the digital tools developed so far have mainly improved the services offered by healthcare providers. “Often, patients have great difficulty accessing their medical information,” he said, “It is extremely important that the patient has access to their health information and is the owner and manager of their file. The development of the patient portal is a priority. The patient must be the focus of healthcare concerns, innovations and investments,” concluded Dr. Le.

Virtual care in times of pandemic.

Dr. Le also analyzed the impact of government measures on accelerating the delivery of virtual health care services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The willingness to limit the number of hospital visits and reduce the risk of infection among patients and medical staff has removed several barriers that were hindering the virtualization of healthcare.

For example, the Government of Quebec now supports and encourages the use of virtual care platforms by reimbursing physicians for online consultation on the same basis as a clinical consultation. Moreover, the government is funding the purchase of commercial licences for the use of virtual care and telemedicine to allow physicians to communicate remotely and as quickly as possible with their patients.

These measures implemented by the government have paid off. “In terms of the development of virtual healthcare services, the volume of online consultations has grown in three months as fast as it has in the last 10 years,” says Dr. Le. “Data traffic among platform providers has grown to about 10 times the pre-pandemic volume.” The deployment of platforms by providers has had a direct impact on the rapid adoption of virtual care by healthcare professionals. And the positive public response clearly indicates that virtual care is here to stay.

An innovative and promising future.

“We are working on many solutions, including issues of disability and workplace safety. There are also some great initiatives and many innovations in the field of mental health, because, as we can see, many suffer a great deal at the moment from isolation, stress and change. There is a lot of anxiety and depression. We’re working on some great new tools to deal with these issues,” says Dr. Le.

To learn more about the latest advances in virtual healthcare in Canada, upcoming market trends and the impact of this technology on the balance between the public and private sectors, please feel free to view the full webinar recording below.

Content available in French only.

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