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Continuity of care: exploring the role of virtual care every step of the way

Woman in a virtual consultation with a female physician

This article was re-posted with the permission of Canadian Healthcare Technology. It was originally published in the News and Trends of the October 2022 issue.

Before 2020, most Canadians seeking healthcare had to travel to a doctor’s office or hospital. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, trends from the Canadian Institute for Health Information showed that Canadians began to receive roughly one third of their care virtually.  Clearly, virtual care has boomed.

Using technology, health professionals can meet people where they are most comfortable. What is behind these numbers, nonetheless, is our success in turning regular office visits into digital office visits. Despite virtual care’s broad adoption, Canadians are yet to see its full potential.

With shared values, sound vision, and committed investment, virtual care can continue to transform our health system. Here are three examples:

In family practice, virtual visits support the care relationship

Having a family doctor can set the course for a person’s path through healthcare. People with a family doctor have more preventive care, avoid hospitalizations and emergency visits, and even live longer.

Virtual care’s untapped potential in family practice is twofold. First, people can see their family doctor despite barriers like mobility, travel, work or caregiving responsibilities. With virtual care, healthcare fits around life, not the other way around. Second, virtual care can elevate how health professionals communicate with each other. Specialists and other members of a person’s care team can work together as if they were in the same office. This virtual teamwork can lead to more timely diagnosis and treatment, especially vital for rural, remote, and other underserved communities.

For the roughly five million Canadians who do not have a family doctor, virtual care also plays an important role to fill the gap. Services like TELUS Health Virtual Care (for employers), MyCare (for consumers), and even Toronto’s Virtual Emergency Department are great examples of ways we can support people who are still waiting to be matched to a family practice. 

For employers, virtual care helps maintain a healthy workforce

Healthy employees make healthy organizations. Investing in employee health is not just right to do, it is the smart thing to do. Health-related absences cost Canadian employers sixteen billion dollars each year, according to a 2018 Mercer article. Employees are also expecting more from their workplaces, with a 2020 Morneau Shepell report showing nearly eight in ten stating they would consider changing jobs for better well-being support.

Employer-supported virtual care is not just about convenience. Indeed, 24/7 access to care removes barriers that would otherwise prevent people from getting care. Access is especially important for mental health, which leads to more than a third of disability claims for Canadian employers based on a recent Mercer survey. However, virtual care must go beyond convenience to reach its full potential. Four especially critical links include integrated healthcare, mental health, pharmacy care, and chronic disease management. In other words, how virtual care platforms work with a person’s family doctor, how they connect people to mental health supports like talk therapy, how they help people take ownership of their medications through virtual pharmacy care, and how they address the visits that are not just one and done—such as with chronic diseases like anxiety, depression, and diabetes.

Investing in employee health via virtual care results in recruiting and retaining happy, healthy, productive employees, who can ultimately better fulfill the mission of a high-performing organization.

Bringing patients, families, and caregivers into the care team

Without a doubt, virtual care offers people a way to healthcare that is less disruptive to life. Barriers like distance, time, mobility, as well as work, parenting, or caregiving responsibilities, prevent people from getting to an in-person visit. These barriers especially harm groups who are already under-served by the health system.  For instance, in a 2021 study led by researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, youth reported virtual mental health services as a convenient, accessible, flexible, and psychologically safe alternative to in-person care.

Virtual care’s potential, however, is so much more than removing barriers. People can involve their families and caregivers in a visit, helping them be an active part of a loved one’s care journey. Although the digitized office visit is today’s form of virtual care, the future is a health roadmap across time—with people and their loved ones being able to co-create a person’s health record and collaborate with their health professionals. 

The power of virtual care: why collaboration matters

Tomorrow’s virtual care is more than just a digitized office visit. For family practices, technology can strengthen relationships between patients and their doctors, building on the benefits patients experience when they have continuity of care. For Canadians without a family doctor, virtual care can bridge gaps in health service coverage. For forward-thinking employers, virtual care can support a healthy workforce, in turn shaping a healthy organization.

Ushering health professionals into a new era of teamwork, virtual care is intended to complement—not replace—thoughtful in-person care. Combined, it will create a more connected health system architecture that is centred on patient needs.

Virtual care goes beyond just removing barriers. At TELUS Health, we believe in the power of technology to create better health experiences for Canadians. Our mission is to transform how people collaborate with their care team, bringing us toward a healthier future for all. 

Visit: telushealth.com/virtual to learn more about TELUS Health virtual care services.