There’s no question that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of virtual health care in Canada, but we’re now learning that it’s not just a transitional measure. A panel at our recent virtual conference, Today’s Legal and Legislative Landscape Across Canada, explored the challenges and opportunities of virtual health care for employers and plan sponsors.
Bridging the Health Care Gap
According to Brett Becker, regional vice president with Coughlin & Associates Ltd., virtual care has fundamentally changed the delivery model for health services. “It’s really become an essential component for health care delivery in Canada,” he said. Considering that almost five million Canadians don’t have access to a family doctor, virtual care can play a critical role in filling the gap.
Main players in the marketplace include Dialogue, Maple and Telus Health, as well as smaller players like Wello and Teladoc. What should employers look for when choosing a provider? “First and foremost is the number of visits,” explained Becker, noting that they can be unlimited or restricted, and that flexibility impacts the cost.
Other factors include access to doctors (in addition to nurse practitioners, who can handle about 90% of cases) and integration with other providers, such as online pharmacies.
Legal Risks of Virtual Health Care
If you are looking to add virtual health care to your benefits offering, it’s important to know that there are some risks. Licensing requirements are different in different provinces, and there is currently no national standard, said Christine Laviolette, a senior associate with BLG.
While we haven’t yet seen a lot of cases in this area, the legal risks are similar to those in the traditional provision of health care, such as medical malpractice, she explained. Technology limitations like poor video quality, inability to pick up on non-verbal cues and lack of physical contact with the patient pose additional challenges.
There are also concerns around privacy—particularly access to personal health information—as well as variability and continuity of care, since patients often wind up seeing more than one practitioner.
“It’s possible there are gaps and that whoever you’re consulting isn’t seeing the full picture of your medical needs,” Laviolette added.
The Plan Sponsor Perspective
Virtual health care may be convenient and efficient for individuals, but does it provide a return on investment for employers and plan sponsors? It depends on how much effort you put into it, explained Michael Bradie, vice president, growth and client services, with Green Shield Canada (GSC).
When GSC launched telemedicine across its entire book of business, it found that utilization ranged significantly—from less than 5%, to more than 100%. Those who were most successful also invested in a robust and comprehensive communication strategy, he noted.
To determine if virtual health care is the right fit for your plan, Bradie offered some key questions to consider:
- Is offering new digital health solutions important to you?
- Is productivity lost due to in-person medical visits important to you and quantifiable?
- Are you committed to putting resources behind a robust communications and launch plan?
Despite the recent federal government announcement that it will invest $46 million in expanding virtual health services in Ontario, there is still some uncertainty around how private virtual care integrates with Canada’s public health care system, leading some plan sponsors to take a “wait and see” approach.
Going forward, the panelists expect we will see further expansion into areas such as mental health, online pharmacy and substance abuse support. When it comes to health care, “not everything can be done virtually, but the stats have shown that most things can,” Becker added.
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Director, Education and Outreach – Canada
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