The Rise of Telemedicine

How Will Technology Help Us Heal?

By Maureen Meehan

While no one is surprised how healthcare has taken a front seat in the news and the lives of Canadians, the way we consume healthcare has shifted considerably.  The concept of telemedicine was already in the works for health services’ providers well before the first wave of COVID-19 knocked us on our feet,  shut all but essential services down and put an already strained Canadian healthcare system under further duress.  Now telemedicine is a full-blown reality, with the need to provide truly safe, socially distanced, user-friendly access to healthcare.

“The idea of telemedicine existed well before the pandemic hit last year, but with the strains in healthcare it has filled during lockdowns and restrictions, it has only underscored its role”, says Serge Cinelli, Chief Technology Officer, Jack Nathan Medical Corp., a company with healthcare clinics co-located in Walmart stores across Canada.

According to surveys conducted by the Canadian Medical Association,  91 per cent of patients were satisfied using telemedicine, and 46 per cent said they would prefer a virtual method to connect with their doctor.  The advantages of the appropriate use of telemedicine are many, including reduced wait times and travel costs and more importantly, improved outcomes. “ I think we are seeing how valuable technology is in the health care space and the opportunities are there to maintain a safe method for consulting with a physician,  getting the care needed particularly with an aging population who are vulnerable”, Cinelli said.

Pre-pandemic, hospitals were operating at full volume, sometimes at more than 120% capacity, dealing with everything from planned surgeries to overflowing emergencies during the flu season.  With the pandemic, triage has taken on a new meaning; keeping patients without life-threatening presentations out of the emergency room became a top priority.  Keeping physicians’ waiting rooms safe became job one.  “The movement to electronic physician referrals and reports, digitized health records and greater technological adaptation in the health care system has led to increasing efficiencies and fewer errors ”, Cinelli comments. Telemedicine has ramped up and offers this socially distanced form of screening; monitoring and providing routine health care such as prescription renewals means keeping the hospital freed up, the waiting room freed up, and lowering the risk of spreading disease.

The future sees further collaboration with hospitals, clinics, medical professionals, government officials and other countries, where there is a global decline in access to physicians and health care providers.  The hope is to see a continued growth in telemedicine and the greater use of technology, so that healthcare becomes fully accessible and adopted where needed,  even after the pandemic.

Maureen Meehan is a local corporate health writer and senior advisor at Bullseye Corporate.