Virtual care in Canada: Pandemic accelerates activation, but more work needed says CMA

One year ago, with the adoption of virtual care in Canada still lagging, the Virtual Care Task Force – a collaboration of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and the College of Family Physicians of Canada – identified 19 recommendations to accelerate the implementation of virtual care. The work of the task force would prove to be prescient as one month later the global pandemic was declared and virtual care was hurriedly adopted to ensure access to care would not be interrupted.

While standing up virtual care has been swift, one year later the CMA is cautioning that Canada’s work is far from done.
“The pandemic truly was the catalyst for accelerating the uptake and expansion of virtual care,” says Dr. Ann Collins, president of the CMA. “Out of necessity, virtual care was adopted to preserve some form of access to care. Going forward, we need to make sure that virtual care is effectively integrated and delivered equitably. Our pivot to virtual care was swift and at times reliant on temporary measures that must now be made permanent and stable.”

While many of the measures that enabled scaling up virtual care were directly related to the pandemic, the CMA is advocating for the permanent elimination of barriers that prevent virtual care from becoming an enduring feature of our healthcare system. Specifically, the CMA is calling for:

• Permanently establish publicly-funded virtual care within our healthcare system.
• Equitable access for all Canadians to affordable and reliable internet connectivity across the country, particularly in northern and remote communities.
• A set of pan-Canadian standards for patient health information access to ensure that the privacy and confidentiality of patients is respected and enforced.
• A pan-Canadian framework to regulate the safety and quality of virtual care services, including the development of a patient-centric approach whereby patient information is shared with care providers to ensure consistency of treatment.

“Virtual care proved its value in the last year, so the opportunity is before us to make it an enduring facet of health care” says Dr. Collins. “We’ll continue the work we started a year ago in expanding adoption of virtual care across Canada.”