After speaking with experts, reviewing current evidence, surveying people living with stroke or a heart condition, and funding a telephone poll of Canadians, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has revealed it found there is “great promise, and a continued desire” for virtual healthcare opportunities beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Access to virtual healthcare—which holds the potential to reduce the burden on the healthcare system and provide benefits to patients and caregivers long after pandemic-related public health measures have subsided—has accelerated over the past 14 months, allowing patients to stay in touch with healthcare providers and continue progress on their recovery, according to a press release from the charity.
“As we plan for a post-pandemic future and public health measures begin to lift, virtual healthcare will remain an effective and efficient tool for patients, providers and the healthcare system,” said Patrice Lindsay, director of Health Systems Change at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. “Virtual care is meant to complement, not replace, in-person visits. But, virtual healthcare has enormous potential to provide quality care for people living with stroke or heart conditions as well as reduce the burden on the healthcare system from prevention to acute care, disease management, rehabilitation and end-of-life care.”
According to a new Heart and Stroke online survey of more than 3,000 people living with stroke, heart disease or vascular cognitive impairment (VCI), and caregivers, more than half of these populations want the option for virtual appointments beyond COVID-19—an increase from a similar survey carried out a year prior. This latest survey was conducted between 23 March and 26 April 2021.
Other points highlighted by the survey include:
- Virtual appointments were most often the only option offered during the pandemic.
- The number of people who participated in virtual appointments increased during the past year from about five in 10 people attending a virtual appointment at the beginning of the pandemic to about eight in 10 in Spring 2021.
- More than half feel competent or very competent using the technology required.
- Eight in 10 confirm virtual appointments are convenient, and they were able to ask questions and get answers.
- Nine in 10 do not have privacy concerns.
Research has shown that a virtual healthcare diagnosis can be up to 91% accurate across a wide range of conditions, according to a Heart and Stroke press release. In addition, it has been shown to reduce wait times, while preliminary studies reveal patients miss fewer of these appointments. Other benefits include the ability to book appointments quickly, ease of access for people with mobility issues, the convenience with which caregivers can join the appointments, decreased travel, less time taken off work, and reductions in childcare, transportation and parking costs.
In a telephone poll carried out by Sentis Research between 6 and 14 April 2021, which included 2,233 Canadians, the majority of respondents—more than seven in 10—wanted their provincial government to provide funding to improve access to virtual healthcare among groups who face barriers. Additionally, eight in 10 Canadians also wanted their provincial government to invest in training for healthcare professionals and education for patients around virtual healthcare.
“As we plan how we deliver healthcare going forward, Heart and Stroke is committed to working with health systems planners, governments and other partners to ensure the momentum of virtual healthcare is maintained, and it becomes embedded in the system in an equitable and person-centred way,” added Lindsay.