With the beginning of July and the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic still being felt, I have found myself reflecting on what the virus has caused me to do differently. I have been working from home, using video chats more than ever, wearing a mask when I venture out in public, and sanitizing my hands constantly. I have also been utilizing online services that were previously only available in-person, at least where I live in rural Alberta. Things like renewing my vehicle registration, refilling a prescription, and ordering my groceries online have made a world of difference. It makes me wonder why it took a global pandemic for these things to be implemented. The same goes for virtual care. Virtual care has only really taken off in the months following the onset of the pandemic. It has become the new normal for a wide variety of patients across the province. The only problem is: what will happen to virtual health once the pandemic ends? We need to push for its continued use.
Tele-health is a novel experience for many patients and clinicians alike, but the benefits have been huge for both parties. For clinicians, it allows them to see more patients, more effectively, and during the pandemic keeps both clinicians and their patients safe. Virtual care is also cost efficient and reduces the burden on the healthcare system.
Patients experience even more benefits. With virtual care there is no travel time or associated hidden costs of taking time off work, arranging child care, travel expenses, or hotel stays. Appointments are flexible and timely, meaning no finding parking or waiting room boredom. This gives patients more time for what is most important. By providing healthcare virtually we are removing accessibility barriers and creating a healthcare system which is equitable for all Albertans, because everyone deserves quality healthcare. For these reasons and more, it is vital that tele-health continues to be available even after the pandemic ends.
I think we often do not question the status quo until it doesn’t work anymore. While I wouldn’t say that the healthcare system isn’t working anymore, there is a lot of room for improvement. Being able to receive healthcare virtually is a game changer for many. Our project is focused on rural Albertans and seniors in long term care facilities, but there are many more populations who benefit from tele-health. Those living in rural areas receive the care they need without all the stress and costs associated with travelling to a specialist.
In urban areas, tele-health is also helpful for minor appointments where there is no physical examination needed. A virtual appointment is ideal for things like discussing a new medication, reviewing test results, or for mental health supports. Virtual care can allow patients with complex medical needs more time to focus on things beside their condition. This technology also works to reach vulnerable or under served patients such as those who are immunocompromised or Indigenous populations. Virtual care is changing the healthcare system everyday to better serve patients.
Tele-health has gained popularity quickly, but as the province opens up and things return to normal it is important to advocate for its continued use. Throughout July I will be collecting stories of patients with virtual health as I continue to do this advocacy work. The experiences of patients are essential to this work, and need to be heard. If you would like to connect with us and share your story you can do so here. Make sure to check back here for my weekly blogs to make sure you don’t miss these stories!
The pandemic has forced us to think of new ways to do things many of us hadn’t imagined. Despite our world becoming more and more connected online, virtual health is relatively new, but I think this has been a long time coming. We bank online, we shop online, we connect with friends and family online, and we get our news online. We’ve started to complete health care online. It only makes sense that we would continue to manage our health concerns virtually too.