The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on Canadians’ daily lives, changing everything from how we socialize with friends and family to the way we perform our jobs. Some of the largest shifts have occurred in the healthcare industry, with patients, physicians, and other providers embracing new methods of receiving and delivering medical support.
Here, we outline the changes we’ve seen so far, how clinics have responded, and what we think this new dependence on technology means for the future of healthcare.
A need for virtual appointments.
One of the most significant changes in healthcare has been the increase in virtual appointments. According to a poll released by the Canadian Medical Association, more than half (57%) of Canadians have used some form of virtual care during the pandemic, and most have been very satisfied with their experience—38% even said they would choose phone, email, or text consultations over in-person appointments in the future.
Providing access to virtual care benefits patients in a variety of ways, and Skende Huskic—a physician’s assistant and clinic manager at Whitewater Medical—has witnessed first-hand how these digital solutions helped at the onset of COVID-19. “We were able to quickly change the clinic workflow,” she recalls. “Our patients were contacted over the next two days and almost all in-person appointments were changed to virtual appointments.”
Dr. Daniel Pepe, a family physician at London Lambeth Medical Clinic, has had similar success with virtual care at his practice. “A lot of patients have been really responsive to it,” he says. “They’ve been happy that we can just call them or send a message.”
What this could mean for the future of healthcare: Clinics and other medical facilities will keep their virtual doors open, even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
A move to online communication.
In addition to offering virtual appointments, many healthcare providers have introduced patient portals—which are providing more flexibility to patients and doctors.
Dr. Pepe has been using Health Myself to keep track of patient information during the pandemic. “When we send a message back and forth, we can then download it into the EMR and have that conversation as part of their record,” he explains.
Whitewater Medical has also been interacting with patients through a secure portal. By identifying and prioritizing the highest privacy standards, the clinic was able to introduce new communication methods while safeguarding patient information—and it has been very well received. “We’ve learned that our patients like options,” says Huskic.
What this could mean for the future of healthcare: By offering myriad options for connecting and communicating, clinics can make a move toward continuity of patient care and driving efficiencies for both physicians and their patients.
A new approach to prescriptions.
Whitewater Medical has also begun requesting prescriptions by fax and phone to make sure that patients continue to receive medications. In addition, Health Canada has amended the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its regulations to permit pharmacists to extend and transfer prescriptions, and deliver controlled medications—as well as issue verbal orders for controlled medications.
Beyond helping patients get the medications they need, these changes have helped Dr. Pepe improve his relationships with patients. “I now have more time for my patients that I didn’t necessarily have before because I would need to bring everyone in to do something that can now be done virtually,” he says.
What this could mean for the future of healthcare: Changing policies may allow doctors to prioritize their time with patients in order to form better relationships and deliver care more efficiently.
And with tools like *PrescribeITⓇ, physicians and pharmacists are able to communicate even more seamlessly. Dr. Mohamed Alarakhia, an Ontario-based family physician, experienced the benefits this can bring—even before COVID-19: “Recently, I issued a request for a patient’s refill to his pharmacist through PrescribeITⓇ for a medication previously prescribed by another provider,” he wrote for Canada Health Infoway. “I was immediately alerted that the patient was also being prescribed methadone by a clinic. PrescribeITⓇ allowed us to identify this deadly combination and avoid a catastrophic patient event.”
*PrescribeITⓇ is available in Ontario.
A new future for Canadian healthcare.
In a quest to ensure patients continue to receive the care they need throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been enormous changes in healthcare—and in short order. While there are, of course, areas that virtual care can’t replace, it’s clear that technology will be important moving forward. In fact, the Government of Canada announced an investment of $240.5 million to develop, expand, and launch virtual care and mental health tools to support Canadians.
And for healthcare providers, there have already been powerful takeaways. For Dr. Pepe, it’s that—despite the time it’s previously taken the industry to adopt technology—change can happen quickly. “You can make monumental changes in a very, very short time,” he says.
Over the past decade, TELUS Health has invested over $3 billion to enhance healthcare through technology. Discover our innovative solutions and virtual visit technology for clinics and physicians, along with TELUS Health’s COVID-19 integrated add-on features.