Telehealth in Canada isn’t new, but it’s become far more prevalent in the wake of COVID 19—and that’s good news for both employees and employers. As a business owner, the virtual healthcare boom could offer a range of benefits for your company, from reduced absenteeism to lower group benefit rates.
Let’s take a closer look at virtual healthcare in Canada, including how it works, top services, its potential impact on your business, and much more.
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What Is Telehealth?
By definition, telehealth is the “remote diagnosis and treatment of patients.” Medical professionals can provide medical and health services to patients through telecommunication technology like cell phones, tablets, and laptop computers.
These services don’t require the patient to be physically present inside a hospital or physician’s office for a physical exam. The service also allows health professionals to monitor their patient’s health remotely through virtual testing or wearables to monitor vitals.
Telehealth is synonymous with telemedicine and virtual care. It’s not ideal for emergency services, but it’s incredibly beneficial for people who need non-emergent medical assistance but can’t go to a walk-in clinic, hospital, doctor’s office, or medical center for whatever reason.
Telehealth in Canada isn’t a new concept. Government agencies in Canada invested resources into the development of telemedicine as early as the 1960s. During that period, agencies sought new methods to bring quality medical services to rural populations who may otherwise not receive the care they need.
Some examples of early innovations in telehealth include the use of microwave technology to transmit medical information like x-rays between hospitals or providing consultations remotely via telephone.
Test results, patient records, and long-distance patience monitoring have been a standard for decades. Technological advancements continue to expand the availability and capabilities of telemedicine throughout Canada and the rest of the world.
Between 2015 and 2018, the percentage of physicians participating in some form of telehealth increased by 340%.
One reason for that increase is the widespread availability of mobile devices with video, audio, and imaging capabilities, which gives healthcare professionals the ability to connect and communicate with patients long-distance. Mobile video conferencing and 4G data networks make virtual healthcare accessible to people who can’t or won’t travel to an office.
How Does Telemedicine Work in Canada?
In most cases, telemedicine in Canada involves these steps:
- A patient will log into a telehealth app or website and answer questions about themselves and their medical history.
- The patient will receive a consultation with a health professional like a nurse, therapist, life coach, or physician who can make a diagnosis or provide medical advice about the patient’s medical concerns.
- After the consultation, the health professional will give the patient a care plan, including prescriptions with free delivery, lab tests, or referrals to a specialist for additional treatment.
- The patient will receive a follow-up call or email from the healthcare provider no later than a week after the initial consultation and diagnosis.
Though the process of receiving virtual care is relatively simple in most cases, telemedicine offers evaluations and treatments for various medical and health issues, including, but not limited to:
- Mental disorders like depression and anxiety
- Respiratory problems related to cold, flu, and allergies
- Sore throat
- Muscular and joint paint
- Urinary tract infections
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Skin issues, such as eczema, acne, and rashes
- Nutritional health
While adoption rates vary between specialties,
historically, Canada has been slower in adopting telemedicine than other parts of the world, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Still, it’s a desired service among most Canadian residents.
Most people view telemedicine as a convenient way to receive high-quality medical care quickly. About 71% of Canadian citizens would like to see some form of virtual healthcare become the norm, whether just making appointments online or having actual telehealth appointments.
Telemedicine in Canada has come a long way, and it’s continuing to make strides. However, there are several barriers to virtual care the government is attempting to understand and overcome to make telehealth services in Canada better and more accessible.
Governance of Compensation Mechanisms
Payments across provincial boundaries and within individual territories create a significant challenge for virtual care billing. Jurisdictional boundaries regarding billing regulations in regional health insurance plans prevent the country from implementing a widespread adoption of virtual care between patients and physicians.
In many territorial billing guides, regulations require family doctors to directly supervise their patient’s consultations, diagnoses, or treatments to make the services billable to the provincial insurance plan.
Many of the plans cover face-to-face patient and doctor interactions but not virtual care. Other provinces will include telemedicine payments in their coverage when the physician and patient interact within a specific telehealth facility in the same province.
Medical professionals must obtain specific licensure to practice in their field. However, telemedicine allows doctors to consult with and treat patients anywhere in the world. That fact makes licensing more complicated.
Each province has its own licensing requirements, and they don’t always match the regulations of other regions. For instance, the New Brunswick government allows licensed physicians in other jurisdictions to provide telehealth services to patients in their territory. However, Saskatchewan requires doctors to obtain a specific telemedicine license.
Physicians actively serving in the Canadian military are the exception to the rule. They don’t have to have licensing in every province to provide traditional medical care to patients. Instead, they must have a license in at least one jurisdiction, and they can use it to work in any Canadian military health facility.
Lack of Connectivity
Interoperability is a must to achieve nationwide support for virtual care across all aspects of the Canadian health care system. The health care system includes:
- Labs and diagnostic testing
- Primary care
- Medical specialists
- Long-term care
- Public health
- Home care
Interoperability is the ability to use computer software and systems to exchange information between systems. Though most of the provincial healthcare systems have some interoperability, there is no nationwide interconnectivity. Patient privacy is a primary concern with this concept because medical professionals can share the information across multiple delivery points and systems.
That’s not to say interoperability is impossible. Currently, Alberta Health Services is developing an integrated clinical information system.
Why Are Virtual Care Options Gaining Popularity?
Despite its setbacks and shortcomings, telemedicine in Canada is widely available in various capacities, and it’s continuing to gain traction among residents. One recent reason for the boost in virtual care is the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in the early months of 2020.
With the virus’s arrival and the inability to visit physical doctor’s offices and hospitals due to provincial shutdowns, people began looking more closely at virtual care. By March 2020, interest in Maple Corp, a leading Canadian telehealth company, rose substantially. During that time, the company’s statistics showed client visits exceeding 3,000 per day.
Now that more providers have developed virtual healthcare solutions, they’re likely here to stay. While telemedicine may have found increased demand as a result of COVID-19, its benefits are undeniable.
Benefits of Telehealth in Canada
Telemedicine is convenient because it provides on-demand access to health professionals and enables people to receive the care they need to improve their health no matter where they are. Remote services may lead to referrals to other doctors, care plans, medications, and more, but it all plays into the wellness of Canadian residents.
Situations involving mental health concerns, body pains, or feelings of unwellness generally don’t require emergency room visits. In some cases, people also may be too embarrassed to go to a walk-in clinic and discuss their symptoms in person and deal with wait times.
With telemedicine services through apps and websites, Canadians across the country can receive the medical advice they need from qualified professionals without leaving their homes. Virtual patients will receive affordable care at their convenience in a comfortable setting that will help them discuss their medical concerns with less anxiety.
Just a small sampling of the benefits of remote healthcare include:
- Decreased wait times
- Reduced travel times and expenses
- Improved chronic disease management
- Reduced embarrassment about health concerns and medical history with face-to-face interactions
- Reduced medical costs
- Increased access to healthcare tools, advice, and care plans
Another advantage of virtual healthcare is its versatility. Telemedicine has applications in nearly every healthcare realm, in cases, eliminating the need for in-person visits entirely. That helps prevent the spread of disease, enhances healthcare access for those with mobility issues or in remote locations, and increases the number of people a healthcare provider can see in a single day.
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Group Telemedicine in Canada
Many businesses are becoming aware of the benefits of virtual healthcare in Canada, and, as a result, options to include telemedicine as part of group insurance coverage plans for employees are on the rise. Roughly four million Canadians don’t have a primary care physician, which can lead to undiagnosed and untreated health issues that affect their quality of life.
By including telemedicine in your group healthcare package, you can help your employees bridge the gap between provincial plans and their actual healthcare needs without the expense of private insurance.
Advantages of Telehealth in Canada for Employers
How else can your business benefit from the addition of virtual healthcare options? Here are a few of the biggest benefits of virtual healthcare for employers:
With access to quality telemedicine services, workers can receive medical attention from the comfort of their homes without missing work. Thanks to the convenience of 24/7 access to medical professionals, they are also more likely to be healthy, which again means fewer sick days.
Attract and Retain Workers
Employees appreciate businesses that offer comprehensive benefits packages. By including attractive features in your group insurance plan like virtual healthcare coverage, you can stand out from competitors and attract top talent. You’ll also give your employees a reason to continue working for you.
Increase Employee Satisfaction
Workers who are healthy tend to be happier, especially when they feel their employer appreciates their services and shows it by offering comprehensive group benefits. Satisfied employees are usually more productive, which helps your business stay successful.
Advantages of Telehealth in Canada for Employees
Employers aren’t the only ones who benefit from group benefits with telehealth coverage. For employees, advantages can include:
Continuity of Care
Those who need medical attention but don’t have a family doctor may choose to forego care. If they seek assistance, they may go to various walk-in clinics for treatment, but unfortunately, this can lead to a lack of care continuity.
With telemedicine, workers can select or pair with a health professional they can see regularly. By visiting one doctor or one team, workers will receive good care plans and follow-up appointments as they continue their path to wellness.
Because telemedicine isn’t restricted to typical workday hours, employees can seek services at any time. They don’t have to wait until a day off or miss a day of work to travel to a doctor’s office to discuss a non-emergency issue. They can set their appointments at their convenience, and rest assured they will receive quality care from a doctor or nurse on time.
Telemedicine isn’t just for people actively living in Canada, either. Canadians who travel abroad can receive the same 24/7 virtual healthcare services through their group benefits plan. If an employee falls ill while travelling out of the country for work, they can still receive care without seeking medical aid in an unfamiliar country. This aspect can also prevent unnecessary medical costs.
Top Virtual Care Services in Canada
Canadians seeking non-emergency telemedicine services from health professionals have plenty of options available. Here are some of the top virtual care services in Canada as of 2021:
Provincial Telehealth Services
Every province and territory in Canada has some type of telehealth service run by the region’s public health authorities, including Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. The way the provinces run their virtual care services varies by area, but they generally connect residents with healthcare professionals.
These provincial services also allow residents to call a hotline and request non-emergent medical advice on various topics. For instance, someone may call for a COVID-19 assessment to determine if they have symptoms of the virus. Someone else may inquire about ways to get relief from a stubborn tension headache.
Felix is an online health service that provides Canadians with access to lifestyle medications. Residents can receive items for hair loss, birth control, acne, and more. The service includes an online consultation for a $40 fee in which the person seeking services answers questions about their medical history.
After the online assessment, the person can receive a prescription within 24 hours. The medicine will arrive at their home for no additional charge. This telemedicine company can safely prescribe medications and follows the healthcare laws and regulations for Ontario and British Columbia.
This platform brings Canadian physicians to patients via phone, messaging, and video chat. Members have the option of choosing their healthcare professional in their preferred language. In addition to medical advice, the physicians may provide their patients with referrals, requisitions, mental health services, COVID-19 screenings, and prescriptions.
Tia Health is available throughout Canada. British Columbia and Ontario residents can receive the service for free as their provincial plans covers it. Residents of other provinces can use the telemedicine service for a fee, beginning at $30.
Those who need to speak with a nurse practitioner or physician outside of typical business hours can benefit from Maple. Canadians can use the website to connect with a licensed doctor within two minutes or less, 24-hours a day.
When connecting to medical professionals through Maple, people can get help with multiple health and medical issues, such as sexual health, flu symptoms, prescription renewals, and mental health. The platform also provides online services in oncology, naturopathy, dermatology, and more.
Appointments on Maple vary in price. General weekday eVisits begin at $49, and holidays and weekends will cost $79.
Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN)
OTN is a nonprofit organization funded by the government of Ontario. Residents of Ontario can schedule virtual doctor appointments or eVisits to video chat with a reputable healthcare provider on their computer, tablet, or smartphone.
The nonprofit offers various services, such as self-managed virtual care, heart failure management, indigenous services, and more.
Those struggling with mental health issues and mental wellness may benefit from the Inkblot Therapy platform, which offers video counselling. The platform has hundreds of licenses life coaches, therapists, and counsellors who help patients work through mental health problems like stress and grief with talk therapy.
Other subjects that Canadians can receive assistance with through Inkblot Therapy include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Bipolar disorder
All new members to the platform can get their first session for free. However, subsequent therapy sessions are $37.50 for a half-hour.
Improve Access to Telehealth in Canada With Group Benefits
Even with the recent virtual healthcare boom, finding an insurance provider that offers telehealth as part of their group benefits coverage options can be challenging. At Group Enroll, we make it simple. As a leading Canadian insurance broker, our knowledgeable team can help you compare quotes and connect with insurance agencies that offer a plethora of affordable services for group plans, including telehealth coverage.
Adding telehealth options to your group plan will drastically improve the lives of your workers—especially those who don’t have primary doctors—while offering a long list of benefits for your business. If you’re ready to explore your options, just fill out our quick quote form, or email us at [email protected]. We’re always happy to answer questions. We’re located at 10 Great Gulf Drive, Unit 5, Vaughan, ON, L4K 5W1.