New fee schedules, simpler physician licensing, incorporating virtual care into physician training, and national standards for patient access to health information were some of the key recommendations from the final report of the Virtual Care Task Force (VCTF), released Feb 11.
A joint project of 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), the task force set out to examine the reasons why health care is falling behind other industries in providing digital services and to offer a framework to enable quality virtual care.
“The patient demand is here, the technology exists. We’re hearing from physicians that they want to deliver care more efficiently. This report provides a framework for the national standards, legislation and policy that needs to be put in place to guide and scale up virtual care across Canada.” - Dr. Gigi Osler, Virtual Care Task Force co-chair for the Canadian Medical Association
The task force developed four working groups – interoperability and governance, licensure and quality of care, payment models and medical education – to examine barriers to virtual care, and possible solutions.
Nineteen recommendations were developed, including calls to:
- develop national standards for patient health information access
- support the efforts of the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada to simplify the registration and licensure processes for physicians to provide virtual care across provincial and territorial boundaries
- encourage provincial and territorial governments and provincial and territorial medical associations to develop fee schedules that are revenue neutral between in-person and virtual encounters
- engage the CanMEDS consortium in incorporating and updating virtual care competencies for undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing professional development learners
- develop a standardized pan-Canadian lexicon for virtual care
In addition to the collaboration between Canada’s three largest physician organizations, the task force included representatives from the medical community, the provincial and territorial medical associations, the medical regulatory bodies, the public and the patient community.
Dr. Ewan Affleck, task force co-chair for the CFPC, says that while the task force report was created through a physician “lens”, it’s intended to be a starting point for future collaborations with nurses, patients, pharmacists and other health care providers.
Task force members were also clear that implementing virtual care is not necessarily about new technology.
“This is about the telephone, this is about text messaging,” explained Dr. Douglas Hedden, task force co-chair for the Royal College. “This is what patients want.”
Without a framework in place for providing quality virtual care, the task force warns there will be further fragmentation in the health care system.
“Canada has fallen behind. If we don’t start to bring this technology into the publicly funded health system, the gaps are only going to widen between those who can access it, and those who can’t,” says Dr. Osler.