A survey for the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) shows that most Canadian physicians will continue to use virtual care after the pandemic.
Sixty-four per cent of those who took part in the survey said they intend to maintain or increase the level of virtual care they have already been doing.
The survey was conducted online in April and May with more than 2,000 physicians — general practitioners (GPs)/family physicians, specialists and residents, said a news release from the CMA.
The survey is in line with comments made in June by Health Sciences North CEO Dominic Giroux, who was speaking at the HSN annual general meeting. He said the number of virtual care visits to the hospital had almost tripled over the previous 12 months.
Giroux told the meeting attendees that virtual medical appointments in 2019-20 were roughly 22,000. In 2020-21 that number rose to 58,000 virtual appointments.
"The pandemic led us to achieve more in one year than we were envisioning over many years to achieve Outcome No. 4 of our strategic plan, which calls for an expansion of virtual care models and remote patient monitoring," Giroux told the meeting.
The CMA survey, conducted in collaboration with Canada Health Infoway, showed that 94 per cent of physicians said they currently use virtual care.
The survey also revealed that 93 per cent of physicians have offered telephone visits, 51 per cent offered video visits and 36 per cent offered email or messaging for visits.
"More than 70 per cent believe virtual care improves patient access and enables quality care and efficient care for their patients," said the survey news release.
The survey also revealed that 93 per cent of general practitioners are now using electronic medical records (EMRs), an increase from a previous survey showing 86 per cent in 2019.
It was also reported that seven out of 10 physicians were satisfied with telephone / video care appointments and roughly 50 per cent were satisfied with the email / messaging option.
There was a concern with the fact that most physicians reported challenges with virtually examining patients and roughly half of those surveyed recognize the inability of
some patients and communities to access virtual care.
Infoway president and CEO Michael Green said the trend is clear, that virtual medical care is now here to stay.
“Physicians are satisfied with it and they recognize the benefits to their patients and their practice. It’s also good to see that almost all GPs are using EMRs, which can really help enable virtual care," said Green.
CMA president Dr. Ann Collins, agreed.
“The use of virtual care has increased greatly since the beginning of the pandemic but work is still required to ensure quality care and equitable access,” said Dr. Collins.
“We still have work to do such as creating national licensure, developing quality standards, addressing interoperability as well as ensuring digital health literacy, education and training. These are crucial elements to the successful integration of virtual care into our health care system and should be part of our post-pandemic roadmap," she added.
The survey also revealed that some physicians believe that some patients will need help to access virtual care. This would include patients who are not adept with technology, patients who have disabilities or language barriers, chronic conditions and low incomes. The survey also recognised that some patients from remote communities could need help in accessing better internet or cellphone infrastructure.
The full text of the survey can be found online and downloaded at the Canada Health Infoway website.
Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com. He covers health care in Northern Ontario.