Health care is a hot topic of debate and it seems we are almost always talking about shortages. For instance, 20 per cent of patients wait seven or more days to see their doctor, more than 40,000 Canadians visit the emergency room every year just to renew prescriptions and 68 per cent of Canadians have skipped or avoided medical appointments due to barriers like long wait times. Family doctors are in short supply and 68 per cent say they cannot accommodate urgent appointments. Our Canadian population is aging. With the advent of newer techniques and better options, we no longer are dying of heart attacks or various cancers, but we are living with these chronic diseases and the need for ongoing care.
So how do we accommodate the needs and demands on a health-care system that is struggling? Well, one innovative option is the use of virtual care. That means trading some in-person visits with physicians for on-screen consults. It means better access despite late nights and weekends. It means using technology to save time and money.
Let me give you some examples:
Say you are on blood pressure medication and you realize you don’t have enough for an upcoming trip. It would be easy to access medical care virtually and renew that prescription on time.
If you have controlled diabetes and do diagnostic tests every three months, you may be able to contact virtual care to find out there have been no changes to your medication regime.
Or perhaps you come home from work and discover your child has a rash. Instead of running to the ER, you could take a picture, contact your virtual health-care provider and answer a few questions. Maybe they’d tell you, “No, this looks local. Not infected. No need for medication at this time.” Whew.
Well, what about the loss of face-to-face time with your doctor? What do patients think? In 2018, Medisys Health Group (for whom I work part-time) commissioned the “Canadian Virtual Healthcare Study” to assess attitudes towards tech-enabled health services. The results:
1. Two-thirds of Canadians would use virtual care if it were provided in their employee benefit plan.
2. 71 per cent of Canadians are willing to trade some of their current benefits for virtual care.
3. 67 per cent of millennials want virtual care access.
4. 69 per cent of parents and caregivers want virtual care access.
5. 70 per cent of those dealing with chronic diseases want virtual care access.
In a separate survey done by Ipsos, a leading Canadian provider of public opinion research, 69 per cent of Canadians indicated they would use virtual health care in lieu of or to complement in-office visits.
The Canadian Medical Association released their report, “The Future of Connected Healthcare,” this past August, illustrating that “Canadians are ready for a more connected approach to health care.”
What about the loss of that “human touch”? Do we lose by adopting virtual care as an adjunct to our routine care? The Massachusetts General Hospital published a multi-year study looking at this question and determined that virtual consults can successfully replace office visits in many situations without compromising the quality of care and communication between patient and doctor. According to the study, “With a telehealth visit, 95 per cent of the time spent by the patient is face to face with the doctor, compared to less than 20 per cent of a traditional visit, in which most of the time is spent travelling and waiting.”
So let’s consider virtual care as one more option in ongoing health care. In the United Kingdom, there is widespread use of such a system, as the government has supported telehealth as part of its public program. We need to be innovative in health care and health-care options as we age, as our population ages, as we successfully navigate through various diseases, stresses and life cycles. So let’s be open to innovation and technology. We want our smartphones to work for us! Now that is being smart.