Canadian Medical Association

Participants at the CMA's 2019 Health Summit

How can physicians, patients and policy-makers use technology to create a better system of care?

That was the question at the centre of this year’s CMA Health Summit, held Aug. 12-13 in Toronto. More than 1,000 participants took part in the two-day event, examining the potential of technology to improve communication between physicians and patients, create more integrated care systems and monitor patients’ health. 

An Ipsos poll conducted by the CMA in the lead up to the conference revealed that Canadians want medicine to match the online experience they’re getting in other sectors. More than 70% of respondents reported they expect to be able to track appointments online, access and share their complete medical history, and book medical appointments through a robot in the next 10 years.

Many of the panellists and keynotes at the Summit addressed this demand directly. Dr. Andrew Bond, a physician who works closely with people experiencing homelessness, told the audience Canada needs to embrace new models for providing care.

“We have a health system built around bricks and mortar health care centres, based on an assumption that it’s the best way to provide care, with the best outcomes. But we don’t have the evidence.” 
– Dr. Andrew Bond, Summit panellist

In her keynote, physician entrepreneur Dr. Alexandra Greenhill made the point that a wealth of technology exists to change how medicine is practised today and improve patient outcomes. But she argues that what medicine needs now is good coordination and evaluation. 

“What we really need is to create music, not noise.” 
– Dr. Alexandra Greenhill, Summit keynote speaker

Virtual care and its potential to improve access and health outcomes was the focus of a special two-hour General Council policy discussion.

Panel participants Dr. Evan Adams and Dr. Rob Williams said for them, virtual care has been a game-changer. As physicians who serve in remote First Nations communities in BC and in northern Ontario, they explained how they’ve adopted everything from online messaging to remote monitoring, to help expand access to specialized care for their patients. 

Patient panellist Jaime Drayer shared her own positive review, telling the audience how the ability to seek specialized support from her home in Hamilton has been “life changing”.

Yet despite general support for the potential of virtual care, the panel and audience highlighted some of the barriers to its broader use, such as an automated way for virtual visits to be added to patient records, and creating appropriate fee codes for these services.

Chief among the concerns raised were the current regulatory barriers surrounding physician practice in Canada. Dr. Linda Inkpen, president of the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada, shared how they’re working to remove hurdles for physicians wanting to practise virtually, including looking at the potential of national licensure.

“We’re playing on the edges – we’re dealing with telemedicine, we’re dealing with locum portability issues, we’re dealing with fast-tracking regular licenses – but the holy grail is national licensure” 
- Dr. Linda Inkpen, Summit panellist

The Virtual Care Task Force, recently created by the CMA, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada, will be using the feedback from the session, and the questions raised, to inform their latest work.

Now in its second year, the Health Summit has become the CMA’s largest national event. Next year’s event will be held in Halifax in August 2020.


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Join the CMA’s community of interest to take part in online discussions about virtual care. Anyone can join, and as a community member, you can share your own experiences and ideas for improving the system.


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