Ontario needs a permanent virtual health-care strategy: report

With virtual health-care visits increasing as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, telemedicine should become a permanent part of Ontario’s health-care system, according to a new report by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

It recommended the Ontario government develop a comprehensive framework for virtual care in Ontario, including support for employers’ continued investment in virtual care for their employees. It also recommended enhanced physician training and a modification of the existing fee-code system (a temporary measure introduced in March that allowed physicians to conduct virtual visits) to provide for the permanent delivery of virtual care.

Read: Most Canadians say employer should offer virtual health care: survey             

“We’re now more virtually connected than ever before and how Ontarians are interacting with the health-care system reflects this fact,” said Rocco Rossi, president and chief executive officer of the chamber of commerce, in a press release. “We can’t make the same mistakes we did with SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] by only implementing temporary measures related to virtual care. The permanent integration of virtual care into our system could ensure all Ontarians can access timely and appropriate care, no matter their circumstances, as well as alleviate some of the pressures facing our health-care system, such as reducing unnecessary visits to the [emergency room].”

The report cited Canada Health Infoway’s September 2020 survey which found virtual health-care visits with primary-care physicians and specialists jumped from four per cent to 60 per cent at the onset of the pandemic, as well as a 2018 study commissioned by Medisys Health Group, which said two-thirds of Canadians would use virtual care if it was offered through their benefits plan.

A Mercer survey cited in the report found that while only nine per cent of Canadian employers offered virtual care through their benefits programs in 2018, that number could increase given that 54 per cent of those employers intended to make additional virtual-care investments in the next five years.

Read: ‘New reality’ of workplace includes virtual health care, enhanced mental-health support: survey