Virtual care receives plenty of attention in the health care world. Some say it will actually revolutionize the delivery of health care and medicine in Canada.
Virtual care is defined as any interaction between patients and/or members of their health care team, occurring remotely, using any forms of communication or information technologies with the goal of facilitating or maximizing the quality and effectiveness of patient care.
It involves the convergence of digital media, health technology and mobile devices, and leverages procedures powered by artificial intelligence and augmented/virtual reality to create a continuous connection between patients and members of their care teams.
It is convenient for both physicians and patients, and is directly responsible for improving access to care — long-distance consulting can be a life-saver for remote communities.
So the advantages of virtual care are clear, but adoption is lagging. What’s preventing many physicians from embracing virtual care technologies?
In a 2018 Deloitte survey, physicians’ reasons for low adoption include:
- worries about medical errors;
- privacy concerns;
- workplaces not offering virtual care technologies;
- cost of purchasing technologies.
The same survey identifies the top benefits of virtual care as:
- providing improved patient access to care;
- delivering increased patient satisfaction;
- maintaining connections between patients and their health care providers;
- improving outcomes and quality of care;
- having potential to improve cost effectiveness of care;
- increasing flexibility to physicians’ schedules.
Deloitte recognizes the price point of integrating a virtual care operating system lends itself to hospitals over smaller clinics. From a business perspective, Deloitte encourages hospitals to readily adopt virtual care technologies for these reasons:
- experience with new technologies could help physicians warm up to virtual care;
- virtual care can give health care teams another way to retain and grow their patient base;
- responding to consumer demand for virtual care can be a step toward delivering patient-centric care.
The Harvard Business Review argues virtual health care could save the US billions of dollars every year, starting with these notable actions:
- streamlining in-person exams gets patients’ information, collects symptom data and identifies potential options prior to the office visit ― physician time is freed up for the actual examination, diagnosis and treatment;
- wearing sensors and biometric devices lets health care providers collate patient info for discussion during the visit;
- adults with diabetes or other chronic conditions using sophisticated mobile tech can effectively manage their conditions and lifestyles, reducing the need for in-person appointments. The same technology can prompt and suggest a personalized self-management plan — and that plan can evolve as the patient’s health status evolves.
Canada’s C.D. Howe Institute weighs in on the economics of virtual care as well, expressing concern the lack of modernization threatens to undermine support for the publicly funded Canadian system. A lack of clarity regarding billing codes for virtual treatments exists. When virtual care is available privately for payment by patient, the risk of creating a second tired of health care based on technology becomes real. C.D. Howe further distinguishes virtual care for its economic growth by pinpointing the growing relationships between medical schools and computer science departments in building digital health programs, creating exportable Canadian health care services through knowledge objects and apps or through direct care and diagnostics.
In a backgrounder on the future of health care, the Canadian Medical Association acknowledges these barriers will be overcome in time. Hopefully, a short time, as a recent CMA report reveals Canadians are demanding connected, online health care experiences. Virtual care needs to be an indispensable part of our health care system, not an appendix. It will deliver more connected, coordinated and convenient care. Once we have it, we won’t know how we got along without it.
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 physician-led innovation? Please connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.