How Canadians are changing the way they access healthcare

Authored by Betty Couture, Clinic Operations at Equinoxe Lifecare

Doctor Jay Sanders is known as the “Father of Telemedicine,” and has been a strong believer of “bringing the doctor to the patient” for well over 40 years. His article, entitled How Telehealth Consults Can Enrich Patient Care highlights that telehealth is about saving time, money and improved quality by bringing care to the patient.

A typical example of how a patient would benefit is in the case of cardiovascular disease. This person may be having their biometrics measured and monitored remotely and could interact with their nurse or doctor via videoconference thereby avoiding readmissions or hospitalizations. Dr. Sander’s challenge to us now is to think deeper and be open to new possibilities as they develop:

  1. “You can get a much clearer diagnosis of the patient when you conduct it in the patient’s physical environment” — instead of a foreign environment of the doctor’s office.
  2. “The doctor’s office can actually be introducing stress factors that the patient does not normally get exposed to in his normal life” — the patient’s home is their “normal” emotional setting.
  3. “Telehealth gives you more control over the treatment environment … The Camera was more than just an efficient window to the patient. It was a treatment tool … The big lesson is that even though telehealth may take some things away, it can add other things.”

Bringing the doctor to the patient

PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) surveyed nearly 2,500 Canadians regarding the future of health care in Canada. They found that Canadians:

  • want improved access to their health care providers
  • want the convenience of engaging in their health care in their own time
  • see vHealth (virtual health) and mHealth (mobile health) as a means of doing so

These results are not surprising and are witnessed in many industries, so much so, it is being called the “On-Demand Economy.” Consumers expect convenience in all areas of life, so it is not surprising that it has also affected their outlook on healthcare.

At the same time, participants in WIHV’s recent Virtual Care Health Symposium agreed that the majority of patient interactions will occur virtually by 2025. They listed virtual care to include:

  • Personal Health Records, either standalone or tethered to an Electronic Health Record
  • Secure electronic messaging
  • Teleconsultations/eVisits
  • Remote telemonitoring of patients

Ensuring that a patient’s primary care physician or their patient medical record receives the information regarding these types of encounters is key in ensuring that patient care is not disjointed.

The reality of “bringing the doctor to the patient” in Canada

According to the 2015 Canadian Telehealth Report recently released by COACH all Canadian provinces and territories are using telemedicine in various formats. This includes real-time clinical sessions, and telephone triage services. Most of the provinces are engaged in pilots or localized programs involving remote patient monitoring for those with chronic health conditions. However, this is a small number of patients when compared to the number of people suffering from chronic diseases in Canada.

Ontario: The Ontario Telehealth Network in their 2012/2013 Annual Report state that OTN membership provides access to the world’s largest collaborative community of telemedicine-enabled organizations.

Alberta: Alberta residents can access their personal health information via Alberta Netcare and according to their website as of January 2015; 1.9 million patient records are accessed monthly. Their health information can include laboratory results, medications, diagnostic images and reports, etc.

BC: The Province of British Columbia (B.C.) has taken a very progressive approach by enabling patients to access their doctors, virtually, from home or work. We have heard from thousands of patients in the Province who have experienced the benefits of improved continuity of care with this empowered model of virtual access to clinicians.

These are examples of significant steps that demonstrate a variety of means to bring virtual care to the patient.

The future:

According to PwC:

“For Canada’s health care sector to remain competitive as a leader in medical services, new delivery methods need to be explored and implemented.”

Equinoxe Virtual Clinic patient subscribers have found what PwC has listed as what Canadians want for the future of their health care. The future is here today, as our surveys have found that:

  • our clients find the service to be: convenient, accessible, friendly, efficient, saves time, private
  • 95% would recommend our service to others

The 2015 COACH Report states its future priorities (Page 68) and their second “future” priority is the expansion and increased sophistication of portable and personal digital technologies “including smartphones”…” and “on-demand” access. Conversely, this is the here and now as Equinoxe is already providing these services and is expanding.

As healthcare adapts to demands of the patient as a consumer of an overburdened and aging healthcare population by bringing care to where the patients is, we should follow Dr. Sanders advice and, “Ask yourself “What am I assuming?, and be open to the possibilities”.

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