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The benefits of using virtual care for chronic disease management

Mother and daughter having a telemedicine call with a doctor on a laptop

The number of Canadians who have embraced virtual care (remote interactions between patients and healthcare professionals) has soared in recent years, in part due to the lifeline it’s offered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a Canada Health Infoway study, 52% of patient-reported visits are virtual, with 75% taking place over the phone, 21% over video, and 2% through instant messaging. A survey by the same organization showed 94% of physicians have provided virtual care options for their practice. 

As doctors everywhere adopted virtual care to treat patients across the spectrum of health concerns, it became apparent that technology held incredible potential to strengthen a critical area of healthcare: chronic disease management. 

Dr. Matthew Chow, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, and CHR user, observes that chronic ailments can be particularly tricky for the medical system to handle. For one, they just aren’t as obvious. “It’s easier to look at an emergency department,” he says. “It’s physical, it’s tangible, you can raise money for it.” On the other hand, “it’s a lot harder to describe chronic care because it’s people with diabetes, it’s people with depression, it’s people with multiple sclerosis, and these are things that are often hidden from view. People don’t know that you have these conditions, and the treatment for them can take years or a lifetime.”

As a consequence of this invisibility, Dr. Chow continues, “people are left to their own devices, trying to figure out their chronic disease by themselves, which does not lead to the best outcomes.” Virtual care can work to break that isolation and help improve the quality of care they receive, and when they receive it. 

Virtual care is now helping to overcome many of the obstacles that patients with chronic diseases face. Here’s how. 

Potential to improve access—and relationship—to specialized care

One of the greatest benefits of virtual care lies in its potential to increase access to specialized medical expertise — which is especially important for chronically ill patients in rural and remote communities, or those with mobility restrictions who face greater challenges travelling to appointments. This can enable better health outcomes for Canadians with chronic disease, according to Dr. Chow. Technology not only delivers his patients and their caregivers greater convenience by eliminating time-consuming trips to appointments, but fundamentally transforms the doctor-patient dynamic to better suit the context of chronic disease.

“It’s game changing,” he says. “With virtual care, I can develop a relationship with someone and use many different tools to reach them in many different ways. And instead of my patients always being on my timeline, now I can be on theirs, and meet them where they are.” 

Innovative tools like TELUS EMR Virtual Visit and virtual care through the Collaborative Health Record make this possible, allowing physicians to see, treat, and monitor patients remotely through their electronic medical record. TELUS Health EMRs also enhance virtual care with features including powerful task management and robust reporting. Their outcome dashboard can track specific indicators, medications and other factors unique to a chronic ailment, even allowing physicians to view them across an entire patient population. Additionally, dashboards empower healthcare professionals to see which patients are due for screenings and send out messages that remind them to book an appointment.

Support for patient education — and engagement

Doctor and patient looking at a smartphone

Virtual care also helps encourage patient engagement. By providing patients with more options for how they wish to be engaged, and by getting the right information to them at the right time.  This technology can empower patients to understand their condition better and collaborate more actively in its management.  

This is a trend that Dr. Chow has seen first-hand: “I’ve noticed that patients are becoming much more savvy,” he says. “They are reading and doing their research, so when they come to an appointment, they’re well prepared and have very specific questions.” The patient-reported outcomes that virtual care facilitates also improves the quality of data their physicians have available to make decisions.

Virtual care makes it easier for family members and caregivers to attend appointments, increasing the support available to the patient, which can also improve their health literacy.

There are a variety of virtual care tools that can increase patient engagement — but one of the most powerful is the TELUS Health Collaborative Health Record. Designed with collaboration in mind, the integrated portal includes private messaging, video visits, and reminders to empower patients to take a more active role in their care. 

Integrating the patient voice within the health record through intelligent digital health questionnaires that collect valuable information and provide just-in-time education also reduces the time physicians spend on administrative tasks, potentially helping  drive efficiencies in the clinic. When they can spend less time documenting and data gathering, physicians may be able to spend more time with patients, which can result in relationships and driving engagement. The tool may also help uncover important information through automated patient questionnaires and surveys.

“I’ve been practicing virtual care for more than 10 years now, and I continue to be shocked by the fact that people will be more honest and forthcoming in electronic surveys than they will be face-to-face” says Dr. Chow. “I used to be missing out on critical information from my patients because I wasn’t using these electronic tools.”

Creating a healthier tomorrow

From virtual appointments to asynchronous messaging through forms and remote patient monitoring, virtual care technologies complement one another to help physicians improve the way they deliver care to patients with chronic conditions. There will always be a place for in-person appointments, but the beauty is that most of the time, it isn’t necessary to choose only one or another. When different methods of care delivery and supporting technologies are used together, it can unleash transformative benefits for patients with chronic disease by delivering the right care at the right time.

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