Virtual visits can improve access to care
Virtual care technology is making it possible for people to access health care providers without even leaving their homes. Through the use of secure emails, text messaging, video or audio chats, patients are able to have virtual visits with a health care provider from wherever they are using a computer, smartphone or tablet.
According to the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), virtual care has the potential to increase access to primary and specialist care for Canadians, particularly those in rural and remote communities.
A report by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer states that virtual care is acknowledged as being well-positioned to improve access to care, provide an improved patient experience and help in the long-term sustainability of our health care system.
However, although the technology to deliver virtual care exists, there are still many barriers to making it widely available, including payment models, licensing and quality standards, the ability to share information, governance, education and training. The CMA is currently part of a task force examining virtual care technology and how it can improve access and quality of care for patients across the country.
The benefits of virtual care
Feedback from patients and care providers who use virtual care indicates that both groups appreciate the value, convenience, cost savings and high quality of care delivered through a virtual experience.
Sometimes a patient only has a quick question or needs services that don’t require an in-person visit. For some patients visiting a clinic in person can cause hardship due to distance or mobility issues. Virtual visits enable patients to communicate with their health care team from wherever they are, in a way that’s convenient for both the patient and the health care provider.
Virtual care is intended to complement existing services when an in-person visit is not essential.
A study in British Columbia found that 79% of patients who had a virtual visit said the quality of care they received was the same as an in-person visit. Additionally, 91% said the online visit helped them with their health issue.
The study also found that 13% of people would not have sought care at the time if they couldn’t get it online.
Quality of life benefits to patients
For patients, virtual care:
- offers comfort and convenience
- avoids unnecessary hospital visits
- addresses mobility challenges decreases the risk for falls
- facilitates patient center careless time off work for patients and their families
- reduces travel and parking expenses
Benefits for the health care system
Virtual care improves access to care by providing expertise and specialists to underserved communities and new alternatives for 24/7 access. It also:
- improves patient outcomes
- offers a new alternative for staffing shortages
- reduces wait times
- supports professional development
- improves collaboration among care providers
Sources of potential cost savings for the health system
Cost savings can be achieved by:
- reducing needless visits to emergency rooms and walk-in-clinics
- decreased admissions and re-admissions from exacerbation of chronic conditions
- fewer travel costs