National standard needed for virtual health: report

Calls for provincial, territorial governments to develop new fee schedules

National standard needed for virtual health: report

A new national standard should be implemented in Canada to help better manage virtual health care, says a new report written by various medical groups.     

“As the world becomes more and more technologically driven, health care remains one of the areas where Canada is lagging behind,” says Gigi Osler, virtual care task force (VCTF) co-chair for the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). “We hope this report will serve as a roadmap to scaling up virtual care in Canada, with the goal of hitting 10 million virtual-care visits by 2025.”

The VCTF — a collaboration of the CMA, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (Royal College) and the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) — released a set of recommendations for enabling and expanding the implementation of virtual care in Canada.

The report, Virtual care: Recommendations for scaling up virtual medical services, outlines 19 key goals for creating a pan-Canadian approach to the virtualization of health services. The task force formed four working groups over the previous 11 months: interoperability and governance, licensure and quality of care, payment models and medical education, to explore current barriers to using virtual care in Canada and to identify possible solutions.

“Expanding the use of virtual care will provide patients, especially those in remote and underserviced areas all across Canada, with improved access to specialist care,” says Douglas Hedden, VCTF co-chair for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (CFPC). “Ultimately, our shared goal is to provide the best care to patients in a way that’s convenient to them and involves them as a partner in that care.”

Seventy-one per cent of Canadians would like to be able to book appointments electronically but just nine per cent of family physicians currently offer this option, according to recent surveys by Canada Health Infoway (CHI) cited in the report.

Virtual health enjoys strong support: Almost three-quarters of Canadian workers said they would see their employer in a more positive light if virtual care or telemedicine was part of the benefits package.

Among key recommendations, the task force calls for:

  • national standards for patient health-information access
  • increased support to regulatory bodies to simplify physician registration and licensing processes to allow physicians to provide virtual care across provincial and territorial boundaries
  • a framework to regulate the safety and quality of virtual-care services
  • provincial and territorial governments to develop new fee schedules for in-person and virtual care that are revenue neutral
  • the establishment and incorporation of virtual-care education at medical schools and continuing education for health professionals.

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