Virtual care in Canada: Environmental scan
September 19, 2019
Learn how virtual care is currently being used in Canada, its impact on the overall sustainability of our health care system and its potential to improve cancer care
This environmental scan about the current state of virtual healthcare in Canada, synthesizes findings from academic and grey literature, conference presentations, health system strategies and eighteen interviews with stakeholders directly involved in deploying or delivering virtual care. Demonstrations with fourteen virtual care (VC) platform providers and an eConsult solution were also completed to add insight into available functionality and user experience.
As the number of Canadians diagnosed with cancer increases, new models of delivering care are needed to help challenges with access, diagnosing cancers earlier and improving the patient experience. The Partnership is the steward of the recently refreshed 2019 to 2029 Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control (the Strategy), which states that technology needs to play a more prominent role in improving cancer outcomes for Canadians. The Strategy calls for the provision of care closer to home.
For this environmental scan, virtual care (VC) was defined as “the use of technology to facilitate a visit between a patient and a care provider who are at two different locations, either through video, audio or text messaging.”
The following objectives guided this environmental scan:
- Investigate how virtual healthcare is being used in Canada.
- Identify its benefits, enablers, opportunities and barriers.
- Discover and review software that enables virtual care.
- Identify opportunities for how virtual care may contribute to the priorities and actions of the refreshed Strategy.
The benefits of virtual healthcare are well-acknowledged and even promoted among those in healthcare, from policy makers to front-line providers. Despite these benefits, its adoption across Canada is segmented, both by jurisdiction and purpose.
Delivery of virtual care
Most of Canada’s virtual care is delivered through jurisdictional telemedicine networks. Patients have traditionally visited a telemedicine site, which is equipped with videoconferencing hardware to allow meeting with a specialist at a distant location. Over the past several years, new software-based “anywhere-to-anywhere” solutions have come to market. These technologies allow care providers and even patients to use their own devices to participate in a virtual visit. With these solutions emerging, jurisdictional telemedicine networks are gradually moving towards “anywhere-to-anywhere” virtual healthcare.
Feedback from patients and care providers indicates that both groups acknowledge the value, convenience, cost savings and high quality of care delivered through a virtual experience. Demand among patients is high and exceeds supply. Several policy, technology, organizational and individual barriers need to be overcome to support an increase of physicians adopting virtual healthcare across Canada.
As ways to adopt virtual care emerge, so do clinical champions, success stories and best practices. Several pilots have been successful, indicating positive results for both patients and providers.
Potential impact of virtual care
Virtual delivery of care has the potential to positively impact access to care, the patient experience and sustainability of our healthcare system. In turn, there are several opportunities to further integrate virtual healthcare into a cancer patient’s experience. Because cancer intersects with many parts of the health system, cancer patients may be the ones who could benefit the most.