President's Message

Shirley Schipper, MD, CCFP, FCFP

Collaboration is key to advancing virtual care for the benefit of patients

As family doctors we are constantly challenged with trying to ensure our patients can access the care they need from the right provider at the right time. We want patients to receive care as close to home for them as possible, but sometimes we are not able to make it happen.

What we are facing with the COVID-19 pandemic drives home the importance of finding ways to help family physicians on the front lines deliver care in as many ways and as safely as possible, including the use of telehealth and virtual appointments.

In February a positive step in this direction was taken with the release of Virtual Care: Recommendations for scaling up virtual medical services, the final report of the Virtual Care Task Force.

The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) co-led the task force with the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (Royal College). The report describes what is needed to promote excellence in virtual care in our country and provides a starting point for discussions that we hope will lead to concrete actions.

Virtual care is essentially a remote interaction between a patient and a health provider using any form of communication or technology. Many of us already use virtual care in our practice settings—from phone calls to emails to texts with our patients. However, how we communicate and the resources available to us vary.

The task force identified four key areas to address in its work:

  • Interoperability and governance
  • Licensure and quality of care
  • Payment models
  • Medical education

Overall, we know patients are interested in virtual care. A 2018 Ipsos Global Advisor survey found that in Canada only 9 per cent of respondents reported they had had a virtual visit/consultation, but 44 per cent said they would try it, should the option become available. To develop this area properly and avoid the further fragmentation of services, we need appropriate standards, interprofessional cooperation, and government support.

As we contemplate what comes next, I’d like to echo a point Dr. Ewan Affleck made at the report launch event in February. Dr. Affleck is a family physician in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, who has done much to advance virtual care, and he served as the CFPC’s task force co-chair. When he spoke, he noted the technology that supports virtual care has existed for decades; what we really need now is to have people work together to advance the coordinated use of virtual care.

I am proud of what the CFPC, the CMA, and the Royal College accomplished with this task force. I encourage you to read the report for the full details.

To all my colleagues who are working hard to care for your patients and communities during this extraordinary time, thank you for your dedication. As hard as it is to press pause, please take time to care for yourself, as well. We will get through this together.

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