Virtual doctors visits may stay in Manitoba post-pandemic

By | June 11, 2020

WINNIPEG — Not long after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Manitoba, the province allowed for limited virtual medical care and it seems the idea may stay in some form.

A virtual visit is when a patient talks with their physician over the phone or via video link.

What allowed for virtual visits to start in the province was the addition of new tariffs, which allow physicians to bill for different services.

In April additional tariffs were added expanding virtual care services in Manitoba.

The tariffs, however, are not permanent and were added as a part of the provincial pandemic response to help people easily access a doctor.

This week Alberta made virtual visits permanent and Doctors Nova Scotia is calling for the same.

“We’d love the opportunity to make this a long term option for Manitoba patients,” said Dr. Cory Baillie, president of Doctors Manitoba.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen told CTV News in a written statement that thousands of visits have been shifted to virtual care during the pandemic.

“Virtual tariffs are a key component of our recently released Clinical and Preventive Services Plan,” he wrote. “We will strongly consider continuing this service in some form following the pandemic, as it supports the provision of health-care services for those in rural and remote communities.”

Friesen said a conversation will occur with Doctors Manitoba.

Dr. Baillie said there is a more immediate concern about expanding virtual care access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Currently there’s gaps in virtual care for the elderly who may need more time for their medical problems and for certain types of visits, particularly for specialists that aren’t addressed,” he said.

Canadians who have used virtual care seem to enjoy it. A recent poll done by the Canadian Medical Association found those who connected with their doctor virtually during COVID-19 reported a 91 per cent satisfaction rate.

The poll which randomly surveyed 1,800 Canadians over four days in May 2020 also found of the people who had a virtual visit since the COVID-19 outbreak, nearly half (46 per cent) would prefer their first point of contact with their doctor to be done through a virtual method.

Community pediatrician Dr. Grant McDougall said families he sees seem to like virtual visits.

“It acts as a quick way to access your physician for a question and a lot of the questions quite frankly can be answered over the phone or maybe with an emailed picture,” he said.

Dr. McDougall added virtual visits have made it easier for his office to manage busy waiting rooms and to allow for physical distancing. He also said there was some concern that pandemic fear may mean people would put off going in to see the doctor and virtual visits have helped with that too.

He thinks virtual visits cannot replace seeing patients in-person, instead, they are a good way to supplement patient care.

“You need to still see people and you still need to have the laying of the hands the examination, if they have belly pain, really, you need to see them.”

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