Telehealth and virtual care in Canada.

Canada’s evolving virtual care initiatives could provide opportunities for partnerships and collaboration in health technology.

Only 4% of primary care visits were virtual in Canada prior to COVID-19, according to the Canada Health Infoway Annual 2019-2020 Report. That number rose to 60% at the onset of the pandemic.

COVID-19 “set the stage for a Canadian healthtech boom”, as per BetaKit, and governments have been working ever since to ensure Canadians have safe access to healthcare – and are mobilizing the private sector to assist with the response.

Deloitte’s Virtual care is here to stay report describes how the pandemic has helped break down regulatory, financial, and behavioural barriers to allow virtual care to be integrated into Canada’s healthcare system. This growth can be sustained beyond the pandemic through key principles including collaboration across industries and regions, and taking an integrated approach to technology infrastructure and interoperability.

The report also states that digital and virtual healthcare will continue to play an evolving role, with healthcare providers responding to this new reality. A pre-pandemic survey found that 74% of healthcare executives expect significantly higher investments in digital health solutions by 2030. This transition has been accelerated by the pandemic, and the subsequent rise of health as a priority. Virtual care will become permanent, reshaping the way health care is provided across Canada.

During COVID-19, provincial governments issued temporary billing codes for physicians to use for previously-limited virtual visits. However, there are ongoing discussions on all levels for this to become permanent. There are also private sector initiatives including Shoppers Drug Mart and Maple‘s foray into virtual healthcare, with in-store virtual care launched in Shoppers’ British Columbia locations. Online doctor visits at Shoppers’ pharmacies are covered by B.C.’s Medical Services Plan (MSP), just like in-person appointments. This is in sync with Digital Health Canada‘s annual report that states “Private sector companies were the first to move on these value propositions, offering direct-to-consumer and business-to-business (B2B) models of virtual care wherever private health care services are permitted.”

Canada’s evolving virtual care initiatives may provide opportunities for partnerships and collaboration with stakeholders on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. The recent eHealth 2020 virtual conference was a prime example of digital health technology companies coming together to network, share ideas, expertise, successes, and challenges with peers from across Canada, the U.S., and beyond.

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