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Posted: February 2, 2020

Virtual communication a must for health care in B.C.

Letter to the Editor

As I write this, patients are travelling long distances for consultations with specialists. Many of these journeys, for simple face-to-face meetings, are made even though the required workup has been completed and the results forwarded.

BUT – What if you could visit a GP, have the referral and information forwarded to a specialist, get the diagnostic workup done, have a virtual (videoconference) consult with the specialist, obtain a diagnosis and develop a plan for treatment, all within one coordinated system? (I am presuming a ‘hands on’ consult is not required and that the use of virtual communication is medically appropriate). From there, contact is made with the required service – physio, imaging, dietician, pharmacist, surgical booking  – appointments are coordinated, the service provided, reports go to your specialist and GP, and the service provider can check back with the specialist for further direction or information as needed.

What if, incorporating this model using a province-wide virtual communication network, were to result in our system moving closer to becoming Patient Centred Care.

Alas, with few exceptions, patients, their families or caregivers are required to make long, expensive, stressful and unnecessary trips for face to face consults when a virtual consult would provide the same outcome.

After 20 years of government ‘plans/promises’ to implement a province wide Electronic Medical Records and Virtual Health Communications system we have six (or more depending on how you count them) Health Authorities who have difficulty communicating with each other and a spotty dog’s breakfast of partial, single issue communication systems.

A history of local, single condition, time limited, pilot projects of patient/physician interaction, all successful. Upon completion of the pilots, a report is filed, there are mumblings around providing the service on a permanent basis and then…

The ability for patients to communicate virtually (when appropriate) with their health care provider has saved days of negotiating difficult travel conditions, significant and unrecoverable costs for meals and hotels and reduced time away from work.

There have been national and international experiments and studies extolling the advantages of virtual communication in health care. The vast majority point to the efficiencies and dollars saved. A Saskatchewan experiment even included ‘green’ benefits, with six million kilometres saved by the reduced need to travel.

Our government has this topic somewhere down the ‘to do’ list. The Ministry of Health Virtual Strategy Department is developing a framework, ‘Guideline for Patient Empowerment Through Virtual Care’ which is expected to be completed sometime this year. It will include recommendations around Use, Information Management, Physician Compensation, Technical Requirement, First Nations, Rural and Remote use, Managing and Governing and Monitoring.

My research has uncovered no mention of a province wide network which will support communication and the exchange of information between patients and all health care service providers.

Physicians and Patient Advocacy groups are seemingly interested in serving their own interests. There are many systems available and competition is fierce. Unless government follows through soon by endorsing a single system whereby a patient’s health care team can communicate with the patient and each other, we shall continue down the present path of money wasting chaos.

Time is running out for the patients and taxpayers of British Columbia to take control of the mishmash which currently exists and acquire a medical communications network that will serve all of us.

The production of a Virtual Care Strategy Policy by the MOH, which just repeats and reorganizes the work of other jurisdictions, is now seen to ‘be doing something’ to ‘be making a serious start’ when in fact it is a way of pretending to move forward. We are more than halfway through a four-year election cycle.

Unless there is concrete action to implement this service soon it will just drop off the agenda again because the costs never appear on a ministry budget line.

Fanny Monk, retired health care worker,

Kamloops


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