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Virtual care gets big thumbs up from Canadians as long term funding at risk

Last Updated Jun 8, 2020 at 6:52 am PDT

(Source: iStock)

Telehealth has received a 91 per cent satisfaction rate, according to a new poll from the CMA

More Canadians are giving virtual health care a shot amid physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19

There are questions as to whether governments will continue to fund telehealth options post-pandemic

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Many Canadians are giving virtual health care a shot — and seem happy with it.

It wasn’t a big thing before the COVID-19 pandemic hit but as physical distancing measures were brought in to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, more Canadians started accessing medical care through various modes like texting, video chatting, emailing, or teleconferencing.

And according to the Canadian Medical Association, a new poll shows a 91 per cent satisfaction rate. That’s 17 points higher than the satisfaction rate for in-person emergency room visit, the CMA notes.

“What we found is that Canadians really want virtual care,” Sandy Buchman, president of the CMA, says. “They’re very interested in, first of all, the convenience of virtual care.”

Of the respondents who tried virtual care during the COVID-19 pandemic, close to half  — 46 per cent — said they would prefer remote visits as a “first point of contact” going forward.

“So, really, our next step is, how do we improve and expand access to virtual care? In some ways the pandemic has had a silver lining,” Buchman explains. “The genie’s out of the bottle. We’re going forward with virtual care now, and how do we seize this opportunity to really move forward?”

Buchman adds virtual care options can be cost effective and convenient for patients, especially those who are older and maybe have mobility difficulties. He explains offering people this option first could save them the hassle of a trip to the doctor’s office, avoid having to ask supportive family members to take time off work to help them to an appointment, and save them the cost of a trip or parking.

However, Buchman admits there are concerns.

The most important thing, he says, is ensuring governments will continue to pay for virtual care.

“During the pandemic, it quickly scaled up and started providing fee codes to physicians to be able to provide virtual care, but some of them are only temporary. So we have to ensure that we have ongoing and permanent virtual care. This is what Canadians are telling us, and Canadians want this choice. So, we have to be responsive to these needs, and we want to be able to assist and facilitate with the federal and provincial, territorial governments.”

Buchman says privacy, confidentiality, and quality of care are things we’ll need to keep an eye on when it comes to virtual care.

“[The CMA] has developed a task force that looks at those quality measures, the safety around [virtual care], privacy issues — those are very important things, and we have to have a national conversation about that,” he tells NEWS 1130.

-With files from Amanda Wawryk