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Virtual solutions are changing the way we access health care

By Michael Green

In the past number of weeks, physical distancing and self-isolation have been mandated by most public health officials across the country and health professionals are responding by offering virtual care alternatives to patients. This care delivery model will be paramount to our ability to flatten the pandemic curve, which is the primary focus in Canada right now.

The use of technologies which allow for virtual consultations between patients and clinicians via video, text or email, is an effective way to help prevent the spread of the virus. Virtual visits also provide peace of mind to those recovering at home and those who are at risk and don’t want to venture to a doctor’s office or hospital. While it may seem like just a convenience to some, for those who have limited mobility, complex health issues, multiple encounters with the health system, and/or live in rural and remote areas, the ability to visit their care team virtually is extremely valuable.

PrescribeIT®, Canada Health Infoway’s national e-prescribing service, can also be a significant asset when in-person visits with health care professionals are not possible, or not recommended. It reduces the need for in-person physician or nurse practitioner visits and enables vulnerable populations to limit their time outside thereby reducing their risk of infection. For prescribers offering virtual consultations with patients, prescriptions can be sent electronically to the patient’s pharmacy of choice and pharmacies can request prescription renewals from a patient’s prescribing doctor electronically.

Outside the current health crisis, in 2018 alone, virtual care helped patients living in rural and remote communities avoid more than 280 million kilometres of travel. This represents more than $420 million in avoided costs and more than 70 thousand metric tonnes of avoided CO2 emissions. Virtual care also has high patient satisfaction rates.

Opting for virtual care solutions can also be a boon to the health system. For example, for every $1 spent on telehomecare, we generate $4 in health system value through avoided use of precious system resources, like reduced hospital stays and emergency room visits.

Canada is a world leader in telehealth, delivering over a million care visits via telehealth every year. And these numbers will grow as more virtual care options become available and outbreaks like COVID-19 make face-to-face appointments impractical.

Society is changing, there’s no doubt. COVID-19 has accelerated the need for and use of virtual solutions and Infoway will continue to work closely with our federal, provincial and territorial government partners to advance these solutions.

Infoway is also spearheading ACCESS 2022, a social movement to create a new day for health care in Canada, one where all Canadians have access to their health information and digitally-enabled tools and services to better manage their care and improve health outcomes.

The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the need for continued innovation in Canadian health care. Over the coming weeks and months, we’re sure to see virtual care evolve and grow, as more people come to rely on it during these unprecedented times. No doubt, when we make it to the other side of this crisis, we will see a new day in health care.

If you'd like to be a part of moving  Canada's health care into the future, join the ACCESS 2022 movement.

Michael Green is the President and CEO of Canada Health Infoway, a federally-funded not for profit organization, and has long been a visionary for the way digital health solutions can make public health systems more sustainable and improve the patient experience.

Paid for by: Canada Health Infoway

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