Virtual Care Key to Modernizing Canada’s Healthcare System

Posted on June 16, 2018 in Health Delivery System
May 23, 2018.

Many technological advances that are at least neutral on quality and costs, but more convenient or empowering for patients, have not gained acceptance by clinicians and governments.

May 23, 2017 – Virtual care is a natural next step in technological innovation for healthcare, according to a new report published by the C.D. Howe Institute. In “Modernizing Canada’s Healthcare System through the Virtualization of Services” authors Dr. R. Sacha Bhatia and William Falk argue that virtual models of care have the potential to improve both quality of life for patients, and access to care in remote areas, all while increasing the healthcare system’s efficiency.

Healthcare has continued to be defined by visits to hospitals and doctors’ offices and now, increasingly, by time spent in hallways. Answering healthcare’s challenges in the 21st century will not be achieved by having more 20th century buildings. It will come from modernizing our system through the use of new digital tools and integrating them into the day-to-day work of caring for patients.

Our public system has had difficulty embracing modernization. Many valiant efforts have been made to drag healthcare delivery into the 21st century, but progress has been slow. The problem isn’t with the technology, as other industries have made this leap, but rather with outdated regulations, policies and special interest groups which affect everything from privacy to labour negotiations, anchoring our ability to move forward.

The report outlines key drivers of this transformation. All patients should have access to their own health information by 2020 for them to share directly with their health providers. Comprehensive reviews of all healthcare services are also necessary to determine which services to virtualize and their respective prices. Finally, we should evaluate the roll-out of virtual care to see whether it improves health outcomes, the patient experience, value for money, and critically, does not increase the administrative burden on front-line health providers. “We risk losing the potential transformational benefits of virtual care simply by maintaining rigid, dogmatic rules that penalize providers and organizations that want to innovate,” says Falk.

Any new virtual model of care must also have an increased focus on the patient experience, a priority often ignored or downplayed in current health system evaluations. “Many technological advances that are at least neutral on quality and costs, but more convenient or empowering for patients, have not gained acceptance by clinicians and governments,” says Dr. Bhatia, “While delaying a diagnosis for a few weeks for instance may not be clinically significant to policymakers, it makes a huge difference to patients and their families; technologies that facilitate improved provider-patient communication then are often undervalued as a result.”

The authors recommend several practical steps towards virtualization of healthcare in Canada that any government could easily implement within four years. They include, for example:

  • Having provincial regulatory colleges make it compulsory for every provider to have a secure email address.
  • Including virtual-care services as part of Hospital on-call responsibilities.
  • Making the provision of emailed administrative inquiries, electronic renewals of prescriptions, and on-line scheduling part of the accountability agreements for primary-care practices.

Click here to view the full report

The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. Widely considered to be Canada’s most influential think tank, the Institute is a trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.

For more information contact:  William Falk, Senior Fellow, C.D. Howe Institute; or Dr. R. Sacha Bhatia,  Director of the Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care, Women’s College Hospital : 416-865-9935 or Email:’s-healthcare-system

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