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Sustaining the strides recently made in digital health

This article was originally published by Canadian Healthcare Technology.


The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for innovation, and has forced Canada’s health ecosystem to reimagine its capabilities. In the past year alone, we’ve learned a lot about the shifting healthcare needs of Canadians, including the importance of adaptability and flexibility when it comes to how we access care.

Prior to COVID-19, timely access to primary care support was a challenge for many people in Canada, and the pandemic exacerbated these issues. Many Canadians have continued to delay care out of fear of being exposed to the virus in clinics and hospitals, or have had care delayed as a result of the pandemic response. While Canada’s healthcare system still faces significant COVID-related hurdles, solutions such as virtual care have shown us that digital services are now an essential component of our healthcare system.

According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, by June 2020, virtual care represented more than 70 per cent of ambulatory care provided by hospitals and doctors’ offices. As of March 2021, more than five million virtual care appointments had been conducted in Canada. TELUS Health met the urgent demand by leveraging its suite of existing digital health tools, already used by Canadians long before the pandemic hit, and new digital health tools. The accelerated focus that the pandemic placed on virtual care inspired us to quickly bring new services into the hands of Canadians who needed them most, across a variety of healthcare issues.

One of the most pressing issues faced by Canadians throughout the pandemic has been mental health challenges. According to Statistics Canada, since the onset of the pandemic, 55 per cent of Canadians reported having good or excellent mental health; this is a 13 per cent drop from 2019. In response to growing mental health concerns, TELUS Health expanded its virtual care services beyond primary care to include access to mental health counsellors and other well-being services, to ensure Canadians and their families felt supported in every aspect of their healthcare journey – both physical and mental. Understanding that a one-size-fits-all approach to care never works, the company also launched Espri by TELUS Health, a mobile app specifically designed to deliver mental health resources that support the unique, ongoing and ever-changing challenges faced by frontline workers.

In addition to providing a variety of services and support to patients, virtual care has also enabled Canadians to rethink how they’re able to access care. For example, the ability to access care from the safety of their homes has forced Canadians to rethink what they want from their careers, employers and health benefits plans, and has them looking to their employers to support them with flexibility, including both inperson and virtual clinical services. TELUS Health Care Centres enables Canadians to do just that, offering a variety of services from preventive health assessments, wellness coaching and primary care, to nutrition, mental health support, and occupational health.

One of the most pressing issues faced by Canadians throughout the pandemic has been mental health challenges.

The end of the pandemic won’t mean the end of shifting health needs and expectations in Canada. Looking ahead, 2022 needs to be about strengthening a system that will support advancements such as virtual care in the long-term and across the entirety of the care continuum. Technology enables access to services and interventions that address not only current challenges and changes, but also those that will continue to impact Canadians long after the pandemic. In response to these growing obstacles, TELUS Health diversified its offering to meet the unique needs of many diverse demographics, providing support where and when it is needed.

Moving forward, we must ensure innovative solutions are designed so they can be adapted to meet the unique, constantly evolving needs of all Canadians, throughout the entirety of the patient journey, and foster a healthcare ecosystem that supports sustainability into the future.