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Helping your patients get comfortable with virtual care: a how-to guide

Will I be able to connect properly? Will it be as personal as a face-to-face visit? Will my doctor be able to treat my health issue without a physical examination? 
As a physician offering virtual care for the past three years, Dr. Mark Dermer has fielded many patient questions about online visits. The fear of the unknown and the frustrations around using new technology are barriers he sees often — barriers than can discourage people from trying out virtual care.
Dr. Dermer believes there’s no better time to put those concerns to rest.
With the onset of COVID-19 and physical distancing rules, patients — and their physicians — need to adopt technology as a way to maintain health care connections when they can’t meet in person.  
“Some patients worry about setting up that first video call and whether it’s going to go well. The good news is, the learning curve is very short,” says Dr. Dermer.
The results of a recent national survey commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) support this view. While only 10% of respondents had used video to access services from a doctor, 80% of those people were satisfied with the advice they received during the visit. 

Getting your patients comfortable with virtual care

For the many patients who have never experienced virtual care, understanding the basic processes behind a virtual visit can help make them more comfortable with this type of care. 
With this in mind, the CMA, the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada worked with Dr. Dermer and three patient advisors to create a Virtual Care Guide for Patients.
tweetable: “The guide helps inform patients on what to expect from a virtual visit, so they can be as prepared as possible and so the appointment can move ahead efficiently and safely.” — Dr. Mark Dermer, virtual care physician

Here are some tips from the guide that you can share with your patients:

Some medical conditions are not suitable for virtual care

Not all medical conditions can be assessed or treated through video conference, by phone or text messaging. 
Generally, conditions that are considered suitable for virtual care don’t require a physical examination, like mental health issues, skin problems or the review of lab tests. 
Conditions that require you to see and/or touch a patient, like chest pain or ear pain, are NOT suitable for virtual care. Patients may need to see you in person for their first appointment, but follow-up visits may be well suited for virtual care.

Preparing for a virtual visit

Inform your patients in advance that they may have to:
  • complete and submit any required forms to give their consent for the use of virtual visits, including video appointments and text messaging; and
  • send any items that will make the visit more efficient, such as symptom questionnaires or photos related to the medical problem.

Tools needed for a virtual visit

Make sure your patients have the necessary tools and technology:
  • a fully-charged smartphone, tablet or computer;
  • a high-speed and stable Internet connection;
  • the app or software your office uses for video visits; and
  • earphones/headphones to provide better sound and greater privacy.
If a patient can’t connect by video, let them know they can connect by phone instead.

What to expect from a virtual visit

Inform your patients that they need to have the same information on hand that they would for an in-person appointment, including their health insurance card, a list of their symptoms and information on any relevant health history. Let them know that at the start of the visit: 
  • they will be asked for photo ID and their geographic location; and
  • you will identify yourself and explain where you are located and where you hold a medical licence.


Tips to improve virtual communication

  • Remain in front of the camera and speak clearly so the doctor can see and hear you.
  • Let the doctor know if someone else is with you and introduce them.
  • If there is background noise where you are located, mute your microphone when not speaking.
  • Present your symptoms and answer questions as clearly and directly as possible.
  • Make notes about the doctor’s opinion and recommendations and ask questions if anything isn’t clear.
Once the visit is over, let your patients know you may send them a written summary through secure messaging.  Patients should review and inform you if anything appears unclear or incorrect.
Download and share the Virtual Care Guide for Patients
The Virtual Care Guide for Patients was co-created with members of the Patient Voice, a group of patient representatives who advise the CMA on key health issues from a patient’s perspective.
This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. The opinions stated by the authors are made in a personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect those of the Canadian Medical Association and its subsidiaries including Joule.  Feel passionate about this topic? Please connect with us at