Ontario health report recommends more virtual visits, sharing ER wait times
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, June 25, 2019 10:33AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, June 25, 2019 9:20PM EDT
TORONTO - Accessing medical records through a secure app, texting with health-care providers, using e-consultations for specialists - those are some of the ways Ontario's special adviser on health care envisions the increased use of virtual care in the province.
Dr. Rueben Devlin and the premier's council on improving health care delivered their second report Tuesday, and themes of its recommendations include better integrating the system, innovation and efficiency.
“An integrated health care system will improve access and availability of services throughout the health care system, will have a positive impact on wait times and will help solve the problem of hallway health care,” the report said.
“There are many opportunities to improve the design and delivery of services in the province to ensure that the system is providing the right care, at the right time and in the right setting.”
On any given day, at least 1,000 people are being treated in Ontario hospital hallways, Devlin's first report found.
In an interview, Devlin spoke about the importance of virtual care, which includes phone calls, secure email, texting and audio-visual engagement.
“For most people we envision it as a software issue, so you have a secure app,” he said.
“We know that our younger patients like to text ... They actually like to text their providers as well. All of that can be done and we know there's discussions with providers, that they think it's a good idea as well. The one caveat: it needs to be secure.”
The government should also introduce legislation that would allow a patient to own their medical information and have it travel with them from provider to provider, Devlin said.
Right now, some patients can access lab or diagnostic imaging results online, and that type of service should be expanded, Devlin said.
“We just need to consolidate that and make sure that when you move from one part of the system to the other, that that information goes with you,” he said.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement that the report aligns with what her ministry is doing.
The province is consolidating 14 local health integration networks, Cancer Care Ontario, eHealth Ontario and other agencies into a new organization called Ontario Health. It is also establishing local health teams to co-ordinate care.
“They will improve access to services by leveraging the full power of secure digital tools, including online health records and virtual care options, and will modernize care across the full spectrum of providers,” she wrote.
The Ontario Telemedicine Network, which works to further virtual care, recently laid off 44 of its 265 employees. A spokeswoman said it supports the government's transformation agenda and work to align with that unfortunately included reorganization and staffing changes.
A spokesman for Elliott said OTN made pragmatic decisions about how it can more effectively use taxpayer dollars.
New Democrat Marit Stiles suggested that Tuesday's report aligns so well with the government's plan because Devlin is a friend of the premier's appointed by him to a lucrative gig.
“A lot of the recommendations, information in here, is really just a regurgitation it seems of decisions the government has already made, a path they've already said they're headed down,” he said.