COVID-19 has forever altered the BC healthcare system along with the needs and expectations of patients. Virtual care is now a core part of our publicly funded healthcare system.
As we transition out of the pandemic, we have the opportunity to re-envision how we meet the needs of patients and physicians by creating a provincial strategy for virtual care based on shared principles and priorities for primary care in BC.
It is time to reimagine the future of care for British Columbians and the future of work for physicians.
It is essential that every virtual care policy decision be made with an “equity-first” lens, so that it does not exacerbate inequities among underserved and marginalized communities. While virtual care can address some equity and access concerns, social and digital determinants of health can create significant barriers to accessing virtual healthcare.
We learned during the pandemic that the telephone is an important modality of care, providing equitable access and reducing the digital divide. We need a thoughtful and equity-oriented approach to the use of virtual care to ensure we address any barriers patients may face.
Patient and Physician Experience of Care
We have long known that different people have diverse care needs, and that those needs change throughout their lives. COVID-19 reinforced the lesson that “one size fits no one.” The integration of virtual care provides an opportunity to design a health system that is truly focused on the needs of the patient.
As we transition out of the pandemic, we also need to create more humane working environments for physicians and other healthcare workers. It’s about recognizing that both patients and physicians need, and together make, a medical home.
Principle-Based, Modality Neutral Remuneration
It’s time to recognize that “care is care,” whether it is delivered in-person, via telephone, video or another modality. What is important is the ability to meet a patient’s needs, not the modality of how that care is delivered.
The choice of modality needs to be made by the patient and physician together. We must support physicians to use the tools that best fit the clinical, social and cultural needs of patients.
Quality and Safety
Complex quality and safety concerns cannot be solved with changes to physician remuneration alone. We need to modernize our standards and guidelines as we transition from “pandemic appropriate care” to “post-pandemic appropriate care.”
The pandemic has shown that virtual care is best used as a complement to in-person care. We must develop a shared understanding with patients and physicians about how in-person and virtual care can together support high quality, safe care within an established patient-doctor relationship.
We cannot go back to our pre-pandemic ‘normal’ in healthcare because normal wasn’t good enough for patients or for physicians.
Now is the time to rebuild, to foster new ways of working together, to establish new supports for the delivery of primary care. Together, we can ensure that virtual care is a tool that creates a better tomorrow for all British Columbians.