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Comment: Telemedicine is vital to the health-care system

Virtual care is an indispensable part of our health-care system.
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A patient looks at the TELUS Health MyCare service. TELUS HEALTH

The April 22 editorial “Health care in transition demands appropriate standards” was not correct in asserting that telemedicine physicians practising virtual care provide “no follow-up … no prior knowledge of the patient.”

Our TELUS Health clinicians provide high-quality, comprehensive care. All of our doctors are experienced, clinical professionals, qualified to practise family medicine in the relevant province, and are all registered with required professional bodies, such as the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

TELUS Health MyCare doctors provide virtual care work with us part-time, and also continue to work in their own clinics. Our physicians have said that working with us allows them to work flexible hours and to support British Columbians who may otherwise lack access to care. It’s also not uncommon for health-care colleagues and fellow doctors to use virtual care services for their own health-care needs.

Our multidisciplinary care team, including physicians, nurse practitioners, and mental health clinicians, build ongoing supportive relationships with our patients. Contrary to the assertion in the editorial, many of our patients have complex needs, which we have the privilege to support by providing a combination of virtual and in-person care. When tests and referrals are ordered, our team ensures follow-up care. There is no cost to the patient, the app is free to download and appointments with physicians are covered through the Medical Services Plan.

Therefore, it’s incorrect to state that “doctors practising in this manner abandon any personal relationship with their patients,” as patients who use our virtual care services benefit from the continuity of our care. Patients also have the option to see the same clinician for follow-up care, as the majority repeatedly use the service.

And for the nearly five million Canadians without a family doctor, or for those living in remote areas, services like TELUS Health MyCare allow citizens to consult with provincially licensed family physicians in numerous languages and book appointments with specialists, mental-health providers, and dieticians from the comfort of their homes on their smartphones. Of note, about 70 per cent of our B.C. patients are without a regular family doctor. Further, to support continuity of care, we ensure any notes from their visit with us can be easily shared with their own family doctor, if they have one. This service is not a “drive-by” and the relationship with the patient is not a “single, isolated episode” – it is long-term and continuous.

A recent survey of TELUS Health MyCare users who completed a virtual consultation with a local physician or allied health-care professional found that 94 per cent agree the service effectively addressed their concern and 96 per cent said they feel cared for by the physician.

Many British Columbians also have the option to see our doctors in person. Today, we see patients in person in Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna, and we continue to expand our ability for patients without a family doctor to choose one of our public clinics as their “medical home,” strengthening the overall care continuum.

Our mission at TELUS Health is to complement the existing system by providing Canadians with better access to care and improving the flow of patient information by harnessing the power of technology with innovative solutions, including electronic medical records, personal health records, electronic prescribing and remote patient monitoring.

Virtual care is an indispensable part of our health-care system. The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that Canadians value the opportunity to access health care close to home. We are committed to working with our health-care colleagues, government, and other stakeholders, so Canadians can live their healthiest, best lives possible.

Dr. Keir Peterson is chief medical officer for consumer health and Dr. Matthew Chow is mental health medical director for consumer health at TELUS Health.

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