With physical distancing measures preventing many physicians from conducting in-person visits, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (Royal College) and the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) have launched a virtual care guide to help patients adapt to this new type of care.
Co-created with members of the CMA Patient Voice and Dr. Mark Dermer, a leading expert in telemedicine, the guide provides insights on how virtual care works, how to prepare for it and what to expect during the visit.
As a physician offering virtual care for the past three years, Dr. Dermer has fielded many patient questions about online visits. The fear of the unknown, coupled with the frustrations around using new technology are barriers he sees often — barriers that can discourage people from trying out virtual care.
“Some patients worry about setting up that first video call and whether it’s going to go well. The good news is the learning curve is very short,” says Dr. Dermer.
A recent poll sponsored by the CMA shows almost half of Canadians surveyed have used virtual care during the pandemic, and that 43% would prefer that their first point of medical contact be virtual.
Before COVID-19, Sarah Fletcher’s experience with virtual health care was limited to the odd phone call from her family doctor, to review test results.
But in April, at the height of the current outbreak in Canada, the 22-year-old medical student was forced to find another way to connect with her cardiologist for a follow-up appointment. New restrictions at an outpatient clinic in Vancouver meant she could no longer visit. Fletcher’s physician scheduled a virtual visit — by phone — to discuss her progress and next steps.
“It felt really personable,” she said. “I felt I had more than enough time to get all my questions answered and it was very convenient to be able to do it from home.”
Fletcher says comfort is key to helping more Canadians adopt virtual care. While she feels prepared for future video consults with her physician, she sees older Canadians – like her parents – needing more help adapting to the technology.
“It is a barrier for some people,” says Fletcher, “but giving them clear steps on how to prepare in advance for virtual visits should hopefully improve the accessibility and success.”