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Dr. Sacha Bhatia and Dr. Onil Bhattacharyya

The Doctor Will Text You Now

Bringing healthcare into the 21st century

With the ability to shop, bank and more from our smartphones, growing numbers of Canadians are also demanding healthcare at their fingertips. Using existing technology and practices from other industries, eHealth practices including virtual visits can reduce the time, cost and stress associated with travelling to in-person healthcare appointments.

In 2017, the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) launched one of the largest virtual primary care projects in Canada – taking place in five different Ontario health regions, involving 278 primary care physicians and registering over 32,000 patients. By the end of the formal pilot, over 16,000 virtual visits had taken place. To ensure that this pilot was rigorously tested and evaluated, OTN partnered with the Women’s College Hospital Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV).

“This initiative provided WIHV with the opportunity to scientifically assess the value of virtual primary care. We know that family physicians see the highest number of patients and are often a person’s first access point to the health system. As a result, we believe that virtual primary care has the potential to significantly improve patient experience in Ontario,” said Dr. Sacha Bhatia, chief medical innovation officer at Women’s College Hospital (WCH) and scientist at Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI).

What they found was that eVisits were beneficial, convenient and accessible. Of the patients surveyed, 98 per cent felt that virtual care was the same or better than in-person care and 99 per cent said they would use eVisits again. Patients overwhelmingly expressed that virtual primary care saved them time and travel costs.

“Our ground-breaking eVisit Primary Care project gave patients the ability to securely connect with their own primary care physician when they needed care, via secure messaging, audio or video. WIHV provided an outstanding evaluation framework and independent analysis of the project, which confirmed its utility and demonstrated the enthusiasm for this model by both patients and providers. The analysis provided insights that have been incorporated into our planning and are contributing to new policy directions in Ontario.” – Dr. Ed Brown, CEO, OTN

Given the option to use either video calls or direct messaging, patients strongly preferred the flexibility and ease of simply messaging their physician. While eVisits have the ability to enhance care for all patients, interviews with healthcare providers suggest that these visits may be particularly beneficial for residents living in rural or remote communities and those with mobility issues.

Given the option to use either video calls or direct messaging, patients strongly preferred the flexibility and ease of simply messaging their physician. While eVisits have the ability to enhance care for all patients, interviews with healthcare providers suggest that these visits may be particularly beneficial for residents living in rural or remote communities and those with mobility issues.

“In addition to improving their experience, patients reported that eVisits replaced in-person visits to their doctor, and to a lesser extent, walk-in clinics and emergency departments. By providing timely access to a physician, virtual care can quickly respond to a patient’s health condition and prevent it from deteriorating,” explained Dr. Onil Bhattacharyya, innovation fellow at WIHV, senior scientist at WCRI and family physician at WCH.

Interestingly, increased access to their care provider didn’t result in patients overusing the eVisit system and physicians found that virtual consultations were not a drain on their time. In fact, many doctors found that eVisits saved them time or took roughly the same amount of time as an in-person visit.

“The eVisit Primary Care project represents the future of healthcare – a system with increased convenience, ease and access,” adds Dr. Bhatia. “Many other industries have incorporated digital tools to produce a better customer experience. It is time the healthcare industry did the same.”

“In addition to improving their experience, patients reported that eVisits replaced in-person visits to their doctor, as to a lesser extent, to walk-in clinics and emergency departments. By providing timely access to a physician, virtual care can quickly respond to a patient’s health condition and prevent it from deteriorating”, explained Dr. Onil Bhattacharyya, innovation fellow at WIHV, senior scientist at WCRI and family physician at Women’s College Hospital.

Interestingly, increased access to their care provider didn’t result in patients overusing the eVisit system and physicians found that virtual consultations were not a drain on their time. In fact, many doctors found that eVisits saved them time or took roughly the same amount of time as an in-person visit.

“The eVisit Primary Care project represents the future of healthcare – a system with increased convenience, ease and access,” adds Dr. Bhatia. “Many other industries have incorporated digital tools to produce a better customer experience. It is time the healthcare industry did the same.”

Virtual Care Stats