Canadian health care services shift online amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Coronavirus outbreak: Canadian health-care services shift online amid COVID-19
WATCH: In response to physical distancing measures, a growing number of doctors are moving their services online aiming for patients to get help without putting themselves or others at risk. Albert Delitala talked with one doctor on the virtual front lines – Apr 5, 2020

A growing number of Canadian doctors are moving their services online in an effort to better service patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It gives people the comfort of getting that physician advice from their home,” said Dr. Bharat Bahl on why he took his services online two years ago.

Bahl still works as an emergency room physician in Toronto, but when he can he signs in to see patients virtually, addressing their health care needs at a physical distance.

“I had a patient, you know, where an elderly mother was having a bad headache,” Bahl said.

“He wasn’t sure if he should take her to the hospital because he was afraid of her exposure in the hospital itself.”

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In response to similar stories, Shoppers Drug Mart partnered with the Toronto-based virtual care platform Maple to bring patients online. The aim, in part, is to take some of the burden off the health care system.

“By giving people an access from home, one, they can relieve the worry of having to leave the house,” said Doug Bryce, vice-president of Health & Pharmacy Programs & Innovation at Shoppers Drug Mart, “and two, you can keep a little bit of strain off those resources.”

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Coverage for online health care is mixed across the country, with a handful of provinces, including B.C., Ontario and Quebec, currently paying for some of the services.

“Just because everyone has to isolate doesn’t mean that day-to-day health care problems go away,” Bryce said.

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“People still have ear infections, they still have rashes, they still have UTIs.”

Dr. Brett Belchetz co-founded Maple about five years ago and serves as CEO. At the time, he said its main value proposition was to help patients avoid wait times and the inconvenience of waiting rooms.

Now, however, concerns around infection have come to the forefront.

“For those needs that aren’t infections, we certainly shouldn’t be putting them in the same waiting room as those patients that are potentially infected with highly-infectious agents like the flu or like COVID-19,” he said.

Belchetz said his platform now boasts about 1,000 health care providers across the country, a significant jump from prior to the pandemic.

Other online health care providers include Tia Health and Livecare.

Shoppers Drug Mart stated it would pay for any costs not covered by provincial governments until Friday.

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