Nervous about an in-person appointment during COVID-19? Here’s how you can see a doctor online

Close up of a mother and daughter consulting with their doctor over a video call on their digital tablet.
Close up of a mother and daughter consulting with their doctor over a video call on their digital tablet. Getty Images

With the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic already underway across Canada,  many doctors are concerned about having to close their physical practices. Patients are also concerned about not seeing a doctor or skipping appointments due to COVID-19 fears. Considering the stress being experienced by both groups, the demand for virtual health care is higher than ever.


Virtual care is also more accessible than ever before. In partnership with CloudMD, a company that connects Canadians with licensed doctors and specialists through an app or their desktop, we take a look at why virtual health care has emerged as an alternative to in-person visits.


Health-care gaps in the wake of the novel coronavirus

When the country locked down in March to flatten the curve, many doctors’ offices and clinics cancelled routine checkups and non-essential visits. Screening measures made arranging a visit more complicated, and patients worried about becoming infected with COVID-19 during such appointments. As a result, some doctors fear patients missed important visits.

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“Certain aspects of preventive care have definitely decreased. Things like mammograms, Pap tests, even some routine immunizations, because often people are a bit afraid of going to a doctor’s office,” says Dr. Sohal Goyal, a family physician in Mississauga, Ont., who is also the Head of Corporate Development in Ontario for CloudMD.


He notes that virtual care and telemedicine do have limitations — you cannot virtually do a mammogram, for example — but scheduling tests in an appropriate manner and looking at the risk factors online has helped his own patient outreach.


“When the pandemic first started, the virtual care option was great, because many vulnerable patients were at home,” he says. “I was able to reach out to them directly and see how they were doing. Our goal is not to eliminate in-person appointments entirely, it’s to provide more options for our patients to see their doctor if and when they need it. ”


What it’s like to use virtual health care

When a patient downloads and registers with the free CloudMD app, they automatically create a chart in the system that tracks medical history and concerns. Every time a patient sees a CloudMD Doctor or specialist, they have access to this chart, so patients don’t need to explain their plan of care every time they use the app. Patients are empowered to have control over their health care with complete access and transparency of their electronic chart.

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“They know what the last doctor did, and what your side effects are, what your allergies are, what your past medical history is,” explains Dr. Essam Hamza, a family doctor and CEO of CloudMD.


“When COVID-19 hit in March, and the clinics shut down around Canada, all the doctors in our system were able to continue seeing patients through our telemedicine solutions. We had a lot of very grateful patients who were able to see one of our doctors in a matter of minutes, because often they were panicking.”


He adds that CloudMD might be virtual, but the platform offers full-service delivery of health care. CloudMD has a patient-focused approach to health care delivery and patients using the app can get sent for blood work, choose callback options for results and be referred to specialists. The app does a lot of the triage work that eats up a doctor or nurse’s time at a family clinic, Dr. Hamza says, which makes it a great tool to use in conjunction with visits to your regular family doctor.


“We’re not there to replace family doctors; we are family doctors. We’re not there to replace specialists; we are specialists,” he explains. “What we’re doing is providing the ability to get greater access to care for people who have been historically neglected and underserviced.”

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READ MORE: B.C. company uses simple technology to help manage the COVID-19 outbreak


Where you can get virtual health care

Unlike some other telemedicine companies that have sprung up during the pandemic, CloudMD has been in development for years and goes beyond a virtual walk-in model. CloudMD was built by doctors who recognize the deficiencies of the current health care system and have a deep understanding of both doctor and patient needs. It has a secure interface and lets patients book appointments in real time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


“We have been talking about telemedicine and the future care and the future efficiency for years. We’re not a brand-new company, trying to take advantage of the situation,” Dr. Hamza says. “We’ve been doing this for quite a while. We believe in a team-based, patient-centric model and we believe in continuity of care.”


Currently the service is only available in Ontario and B.C., where all costs are covered under the Canada Health Act and provincial plans.


Like a regular clinic, CloudMD takes revenue from provincial governments, keeps 30 per cent for overhead costs such as staffing and technology, and pays out the remaining 70 per cent to the doctors. Doctors have more flexibility in their schedules with the hybrid model and can often see more or less patients in a day, depending on their preference. The hope is to expand that service to the rest of the country in the coming months.

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“Prior to COVID, the barrier to virtual care has been the lack of financial remuneration for the physicians. Now, with COVID, the billing codes are uniform across Canada, which most likely won’t be changed following the pandemic. These billing codes are enabling physicians to see patients virtually and be compensated for it without charging the patient,” Dr. Goyal says.


“I definitely think virtual care is here to stay. This is something we need to advocate for, for all patients across Canada. Especially those vulnerable populations, and those living in remote communities who may not have access to regular medical care. We want to make sure that there’s equal access for everyone.”


READ MORE: The New Reality: Virtual health care likely to remain permanent fixture in Maritimes


To learn more or to download the app, visit CloudMD.