Opinion: COVID is superspreading efficient and convenient health care

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Not surprisingly, many patients prefer the convenience of a 20-minute chat with their doctor without having to go to the hospital. What’s more interesting is that colleagues in various medical subspecialties have also expressed their satisfaction with this way of providing care. They say it’s an efficient use of their time, care can be delivered virtually without compromising outcomes and, maybe most importantly, patients like it. People often wonder how the world will change as a result of COVID-19. One difference is that the pandemic has markedly reduced physicians’ aversion to virtual visits and accelerated what was previously only a very gradual trend toward virtual care.

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Going forward, Canadian health-care authorities need to revisit rates of reimbursement for virtual visits. Fee codes instituted on a temporary basis during COVID will need to be made permanent and possibly increased if virtual appointments become the new normal. Canada’s public health-care system — and the regulations that define it — must also evolve as we embrace the digital health revolution and, as a result, provincial and national barriers evaporate in our new virtual world.

Once we decide virtual care doesn’t compromise outcomes and is beneficial for patients, we’ll immediately face another set of problems involving payment models for out-of-province treatment. The Canada Health Act, which influences almost all aspects of our health-care system, has little relevance for a patient waiting for care in rural Manitoba who uses an app to consult with a specialist in B.C. (or even outside the country). As a general guideline for novel solutions, we can lean on four key goals from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, an organization committed to advancing the quality of care: improve outcomes, improve the patient experience, improve the clinician experience and decrease costs.

Shopify CEO Tobias Lutke has said that COVID-19 has brought 2030 a decade early. Both physicians and patients have now had positive experiences with virtual visits. The federal government has already announced funding for virtual-care strategies to help manage COVID demands. Now is the time to capitalize on the consequences of COVID and make sure our laws, regulations and financing rules don’t prevent this unexpected win-win for patients and physicians.

Jehangir J. Appoo is an associate research professor at the University of Calgary and a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute.

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