Canadian Medical Association

Family physician Dr. Rick Tytus started virtual visits four years ago, out of necessity. An obese patient who lived just a block from his Hamilton clinic never came in for appointments because she had difficulty climbing stairs and didn’t feel comfortable out in public. Thanks to video conferencing, Dr. Tytus is now treating her for diabetes and hypertension and has helped her lose 50 lbs.

“She now feels connected, whereas before she felt abandoned and felt the only way she could access care was by ambulance,” he says.

Dr. Tytus believes virtual technologies, like video conferencing, can help patients overcome physical and psychological barriers to care and he’d like to see more physicians adopt them. As a member of the new national task force on virtual care, he plans to share his clinical experience at the first meeting on May 28.

The task force is a joint initiative of the CMA, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada. The group’s mandate will be to identify the regulatory and administrative changes needed to support virtual care in Canada, and to allow physicians to deliver care to patients within and across provincial and territorial boundaries.

“We need to evolve our thinking around health care and how we deliver it – as physicians, regulators and policy-makers.” - Dr. Gigi Osler, CMA President and task force co-chair

It’s an issue that CMA members have also flagged. At both the CMA Health Summit last August and the Regional Member Forums this winter, members stressed they want more technology, training and payment models to support the adoption of virtual care in their practices.

“This is a real opportunity,” says Dr. Ewan Affleck, a health informatician and general practitioner in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (NWT) and co-chair of the task force.

“Virtual care isn’t something we’ve done very well, so there’s a need for a national consensual approach.” - Dr. Ewan Affleck, task force co-chair

For Dr. Affleck, that approach is less about technology and more about the proper management of patient health information. He spent 20 years building an integrated EMR system that links all medical agencies in the NWT and gives them access to a patient’s file. The unified system means medical practitioners – whether in Fort Smith or 4,000 kilometres away in Ulukhaktok – are working together to improve patient care.

“We need to think about the value proposition of digitization, which is providing physicians with information that allows them to deliver quality care – the AI, the robots and all this cool stuff is just the capacity to move the information.”

How to move patient information across the entire country will be more challenging. Dr. Affleck says the task force will need to examine current barriers like licensure, health care resources and the culture of care before designing an integrated system that works.

“This is a marathon, not a 100-metre dash – but we need to get started.”

Interested in sharing your ideas and insights on virtual care?

Join the discussion on our member engagement platform and check back regularly for updates on the work of the virtual care task force. We’ll also be hosting a dialogue on virtual care as part of the CMA Health Summit this August in Toronto.

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