While they say absence makes the heart grow fonder, many of us have struggled with enforced absences from our friends and loved ones during physical distancing imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But one enforced absence has really worked for me, countless patients like me, and our caregivers: forced absence from my doctors’ physical offices in favour of virtual appointments.
Once only used in rare cases, virtual healthcare has become a primary means of delivering care since COVID-19 came to Canada in March 2020. Patients and caregivers alike agree even after physical distancing measures are no longer needed; virtual healthcare should remain a core part of our healthcare delivery.
The rapid implementation of physical distancing measures due to COVID-19 required governments and healthcare providers to quickly implement protocols to deliver patient care by phone or video conference wherever possible and catapulted the use of virtual care forward. According to Canada Health Infoway, approximately two-thirds of patient visits with primary care providers are now virtual. In fact, according to a poll commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association, by May 2020, almost half of all Canadians had accessed a physician using virtual care options and were highly satisfied with the results.
That experience is shared by those of us with diabetes. According to a survey of people affected by diabetes conducted by Diabetes Canada in June 2020, 72 per cent of respondents had had a phone or video visit with their healthcare provider (e.g. doctor, nurse, rehabilitation specialist, etc.) and overwhelmingly enjoyed virtual visits. They found them convenient and felt heard, and able to ask questions. Most (me included!) would prefer more virtual visits in future, even after COVID ends.
Virtual care is good for the health care providers and system, too. Virtual medicine can facilitate delivering care to any patient, even if they live in a remote area or if they have mobility limitations. Electronic consults can help primary care providers obtain the advice of specialists for their patients. According to Canada Health Infoway, electronic prescriptions and prescription renewals could replace tens of thousands of doctor visits every year, freeing those time slots up for patients who really need them.
While physical visits will always be required for some folks at least some of the time, other methods of connecting patients and caregivers hold significant promise for adding convenience and better allocating precious resources throughout our healthcare system.
These are just some of the reasons why Diabetes Canada’s Diabetes 360° strategy to address diabetes and other chronic disease highlights the need for increased use of virtual and telemedicine under its recommendation 5.4.2, that patients need the right care at the right time. That’s also why we were proud to collaborate with the Centre for Effective Practice and the Faculty of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto to produce a guide for primary care providers on how best they can use virtual care to manage their patients with type 2 diabetes during COVID-19.
The evidence is clear: virtual care is working for both people living with diabetes and their health care providers. Our governments are encouraged to continue to implement measures like pan-Canadian medical licenses and virtual care billing codes that will facilitate the continued use of virtual care to ensure that all Canadians have access to the care they need at the time they need it.
Author: Kimberley Hanson
Category Tags: Impact Stories;
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