Since universal healthcare began in Canada in 1958, a lot has changed. Increasingly, both doctors and patients are focusing more on prevention rather than treatment, with the goal of minimizing time spent in hospital. And with the use of technology so widespread, virtual healthcare is becoming more common.
What is virtual healthcare?
Virtual healthcare means any kind of medical or health consultation that takes place remotely through communication technology instead of face-to-face. It may take many forms, including live video chat, a phone call, email or instant messaging. In addition, electronic health records are streamlining record-keeping and digital apps are helping people better manage their health on their own.
A virtual approach holds benefits for both patients and healthcare providers. Electronic medical records, telehomecare, virtual visits and patient portals may help more Canadians access better quality care more easily. Doctors, nurse practitioners and other professionals can have better access to comprehensive patient information when they need it. And e-consults may allow more people to see a specialist when they need one. Together, it all adds up to more empowered patients, a more efficient system, cost savings and hopefully better health outcomes.
Advancements in virtual healthcare
Here’s a look at some of the virtual healthcare options currently available.
Government initiatives. Canada Health InfoWay is an independent, not-for-profit organization funded by the federal government that partners with healthcare providers, IT professionals, regulatory bodies and others to advance the use of digital health solutions. The objective: to improve access to healthcare for all Canadians.
One program currently under development is PrescribeIT™, a service that will enable doctors and nurse practitioners to digitally transmit prescriptions to their patients’ preferred pharmacy.
Virtual visits. Virtual visits allow patients to connect with their healthcare provider through a secure, two-way digital communication instead of going to the doctor’s office. In a BC study, 79% of patients who had a virtual visit said that the quality of care was the same as an in-person visit.
Patient portals. Patient portals allow patients to securely access their personal health information online. Patients feel more involved in their care and can have more informed discussions with their healthcare provider. In one study, 94% of users said that they valued viewing their health information online.
Electronic health and medical records. An electronic health record (EHR) shows all of a patient’s interactions with the healthcare system. Healthcare providers can access lab results, x-rays, ultrasound results and so on for a patient all in one place. They can also see notes on the types of care patients have received in different places, such as at a hospital or with a specialist.
An electronic medical record (EMR), on the other hand, keeps track of a patient’s activities at a single site, such as a family health team or group practice. In clinics that have a number of doctors, nurses, dietitians, pharmacists and other healthcare workers, EMRs can improve communication between them and enhance productivity. In 2016 alone, EMRs saved the healthcare system an estimated $623 million by reducing duplicate testing and preventing bad drug reactions.
Telehomecare. Telehomecare, or remote patient monitoring (RPM), allows a healthcare provider (usually a nurse or paramedic) to “see” patients and help them manage their condition on their own.
These programs are available across much of the country and have served 31,500 Canadians since 2010, with very positive results:
- 92% of patients said the digital health tools were easy to use
- 91% felt more informed about their chronic condition
- 91% were better able to manage their health condition
- 87% felt it improved their quality of life
Telehealth. Telehealth allows doctors and specialists to assess patients remotely, via videoconferencing. For example, if a patient comes into an emergency room in northern Ontario with severe injuries, the staff there can conference in specialists from a larger hospital with a dedicated trauma centre.
Digital health apps. Digital health applications help patients self-manage an existing condition or provide guidance to improve their health. Examples include fitness trackers, sleeping apps that tell people how long they need to sleep to feel rested and a heart-rate app that checks both pulse and rhythm for people with occasional palpitations.
e-Mental health. Mental health services and information are available in a variety of digital formats. For example:
- Online self-help — self-help modules and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) apps
- Crisis support — phone help lines, text support, online chat support, hot spot notifications
- Medical intervention — counselling via video or text, along with clinical follow-up and referral
- Peer-led support — online monitoring, peer support apps, social media, chat rooms, instant messaging, gaming
- Coaching — online therapy, video, text and voice chat
Did you know…
You can get 24/7 healthcare on demand
Sometimes it’s hard to find the time to visit a doctor or walk-in clinic. Or maybe you’re just not comfortable sitting in a crowded waiting room until it’s your turn. With Akira by TELUS Health, you don’t have to wait.
Akira makes it easy to get the support you need quickly and conveniently. Through your smartphone or computer, you have 24/7 access to healthcare from anywhere in the world.*
That means you can:
- Consult with a healthcare professional via video or text.
- Get a diagnosis and treatment plan for common concerns.
- Get new or repeat prescriptions.
- Speak to a psychologist or dietitian.
- Get lab test requisitions and referrals to specialists.
- Track your prescriptions and lab results with the Akira app.
Akira is included in all Manulife Health and Dental insurance plans, including CoverMe.**
*While Akira can be used anywhere in the world, some limitations apply outside Canada: users can receive medical counselling and diagnosis, but Akira's clinicians cannot prescribe medication or refer to specialists outside of Canada. Also note that Akira is never meant to be used for medical emergencies, so should not be used as a replacement for your emergency medical travel benefit.
**Manulife cannot guarantee the availability of this benefit indefinitely.
Canada.ca – “Unleashing Innovation Report”
Canada.ca – “Canada’s Healthcare System”
Canada Health Infoway – “Driving Access to Care”