Physicians Shift to Virtual Care in First of Pandemic

Physicians in Canada generally opted to offer virtual care services options instead of in-person care amid the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

In April, 55 percent of patient visits, physician-to-physician consultations and psychotherapy were provided online or by phone, according to the report.

“I think we were all a little surprised to see how readily the health care system could shift to the use of virtual care to enable access and to maintain certain operations. The flip side is that virtual care doesn’t suit everything, and in a climate of infection transmission we still had to find ways to safely offer in-person care,” said Cassie Chisholm, director of primary health care, Department of Health and Community Services, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Also, virtual care is far more complicated than it may seem. Privacy and security, documentation, the connectedness of the technology and how providers are paid for virtual care are just some of the factors to consider.”

On the other hand, emergency department (ED) numbers dropped an estimated 25,000 visits a day in April 2020 compared with April 2019, representing approximately half the usual number of patients. Volumes rebounded to about 85 percent of last year in June, but the trend continued from March through June.

The result? In Ontario, the median ED wait time during this period was 46 minutes, down 27 minutes from the median wait time of 1 hour and 13 minutes in 2019.

Also, there were more than 320,000 fewer planned inpatient surgeries and day procedures in March to June 2020 compared to the same period last year (excluding Quebec). This is because hospitals prioritized life-saving/urgent surgeries and medical care, and generally operated below capacity from March to June.

By June, however, occupancy levels had returned to 75 percent of the previous year’s.

There were also 41 percent fewer initial home care screening assessments by April 2020 compared with the previous year.

“This data helps us understand how the first wave affected different types of health services,” said Kathleen Morris, Vice President, Research and Analysis, CIHI. “As the pandemic evolves, we will continue to monitor these trends, supporting health system planners in their efforts to provide necessary care to patients, preserve capacity for COVID-19–related surges and minimize the risk for both patients and health care providers.”

A separate study found that 88 percent of Canadians agree that there’s a need to improve the capacity of the health care system, be it through more beds, personal protective equipment, medical staff, or hospitals and clinics.

Also, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) recently called on governments to recruit enough nurses to help care for the growing numbers of people living with diabetes, and to prioritise the role nurses play by investing in their professional development.

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