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Pros and Cons of Telehealth in Canada

Telehealth, also known as virtual care or telemedicine, has been gaining popularity in Canada over the past few years. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telehealth as a way to provide healthcare services without the need for in-person visits. While telehealth has many benefits, it also has its drawbacks. Below I will explore the pros and cons of telehealth in Canada and what regulatory changes are coming up next that may change a few things.

Pros of Telehealth in Canada

1. Improved Access to Healthcare
Remote areas such as Oxbow, in Saskatchewan, have been struggling with ER disruptions. Medical clinics are closing on many locations, such as this clinic closing in Halifax, leaving more than 4,000 people without a doctor. Telehealth can improve access to healthcare services anywhere in Canada, but especially for individuals who live in rural or remote areas where access to healthcare providers is limited. With telehealth, patients can connect with healthcare providers from the comfort of their homes without having to travel long distances.
2. Reduced Wait Times

Telehealth has also helped to reduce wait times for healthcare services. With telehealth, patients can schedule appointments with healthcare providers at their convenience, without having to wait for weeks or months for an appointment, or even having to call many clinics and providers just to know if clinics have the capacity to see you. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can check this page to see the average wait time in medical clinics across Canada, on this study done by Medimap.

3. Cost Savings
Telehealth has also helped to reduce healthcare costs. With telehealth, healthcare providers can offer consultations and follow-up appointments remotely, which reduces the need for in-person visits, and overhead costs of physical locations. This has reduced healthcare costs for patients and healthcare providers alike.

Cons of Telehealth in Canada

1. Limited Physical Examination
One of the main drawbacks of telehealth is the limited physical examination that healthcare providers can perform remotely. Healthcare providers cannot perform physical examinations, such as taking vital signs, listening to the heart and lungs, or palpating the abdomen, over a virtual platform. This limits the ability of healthcare providers to diagnose and treat certain conditions.
2. Technology Limitations
Telehealth requires technology, such as a reliable internet connection, a computer, and a camera. Patients who do not have access to these technologies may be excluded from receiving healthcare services through telehealth. Even though Canada has one of the most connected populations in the world, this number fell from 2022 to 2023 when Canada went from 96% of the population using the internet down to 93%.  This can create disparities in access to healthcare services for certain populations.
3. Privacy and Security Concerns
Telehealth raises privacy and security concerns, especially with regards to the storage and sharing of personal health information. Healthcare providers must take measures to ensure that patient information is protected and secure when using telehealth platforms. Canada has strict regulations on this topic, as outlined in the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). Also, on top of the national act, Canadian provinces have their own set of privacy laws such platforms need to follow.  So out of the box technical solutions from other countries do need to adapt their solutions to the Canadian market.
4. Lack of Personal Connection
Telehealth can also create a lack of personal connection between healthcare providers and patients. Virtual consultations lack the personal touch that comes with in-person visits, which can make it difficult for healthcare providers to build relationships with their patients. This can have an impact on the quality of care that patients receive.

Regulatory Changes Coming Up Next

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of virtual care in Canada, and as a result, there are several upcoming regulatory changes related to virtual care in Canada. Here are some of the changes that are coming up next:
1. Expansion of Virtual Care Billing Codes
The Ontario Ministry of Health has introduced new billing codes for virtual care services, which include video, telephone, and secure messaging consultations. Other provinces are also expected to follow suit, which will enable healthcare providers to bill for virtual care services.
2. National Virtual Care Strategy
The Canadian government has established the Digital Health and Virtual Care Taskforce to develop a national strategy for virtual care in Canada. The task force will provide recommendations on how to improve access to virtual care, ensure the privacy and security of patient information, and integrate virtual care into the healthcare system.
3. Regulation and expansion of Virtual Care Platforms
The Canadian government is working to develop regulations for virtual care platforms to ensure that they meet privacy and security standards. This includes developing guidelines for the storage and sharing of personal health information, as well as ensuring that virtual care platforms are accessible to all Canadians, including those in remote and underserved areas.
Overall, these regulatory changes are aimed at improving access to virtual care for Canadians and ensuring that virtual care is integrated into the healthcare system in a way that is safe, secure, and effective.

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About the author

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Rod Ramos

Director of Product at Medimap

Rod Ramos is the Director of Product at Medimap, a leading digital health company focused on helping patients get access to care faster and more conveniently. Rod is a seasoned professional with 10+ years of experience building software products, a degree in Computer Science, and a background as a full stack web developer. Rod loves to combine his passion about solving problems with it's technical background to come up with sustainable solutions.

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