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Virtual physician visits to become permanent in Alberta post-COVID-19 pandemic

Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro provides details on a new initiative intended to distribute non-medical masks to Albertans to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in Calgary, Alta.
Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro provides details on a new initiative intended to distribute non-medical masks to Albertans to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in Calgary, Alta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Virtual physician visits that were implemented as an additional safety measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic will now become a permanent option for Albertans.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the extension of the initiative on Monday during a provincial update on the novel coronavirus situation in Alberta.

“Virtual care gave physicians the flexibility to decide the best way to provide care during the challenging times and we’ve seen a great uptake in virtual visits,” Shandro said. “I’m pleased to announce that we are making these codes permanent.

“Virtual codes will no longer be restricted to only a public health emergency.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta adds new billing codes for doctors providing virtual care

Through these virtual sessions, Albertans are able to connect with a doctor over the phone or through a secured video conference to receive medical consultations, assessments and mental health services. Shandro said expanding these sessions will continue to allow residents to access important medical services without having to leave their homes.

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“Virtual care has been an important part of our COVID-19 response, protecting patients, doctors and clinic staff by providing an alternative to office visits that avoids the risk of contact with the virus,” he said.

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“These visits have proved their value, so we’re making them permanent to allow physicians and patients to keep using them as appropriate while being fairly compensated.”

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In March, the provincial government released temporary billing codes for doctors providing virtual care that ensured the physicians were paid the same rate as in-person medical services.

The decision to provide new billing codes was made after several family doctors voiced concerns with current billing methods and urged the province for more support of virtual options.

Shandro said the new billing codes will now be implemented permanently for physicians providing post-pandemic virtual care.

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READ MORE: Canadian health care services shift online amid COVID-19 pandemic

“All existing rules and rates for these virtual codes will remain in place,” he said.

“They will also remain excluded from the daily patient visit cap — this will ensure that physicians can continue to provide the care that Albertans need while being fairly compensated.”

Shandro added that all in-person medical services will continue as normal across the province.

“To be clear, in-person care will continue, this is simply another option for Albertans and their physicians,” Shandro said.