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Making The Most of Virtual Care Appointments: 5 Tips for Healthcare Providers in Ontario

Canada has long been a leader in providing high-quality, accessible healthcare services to its citizens. In Ontario, a wide range of world-class clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare organizations are readily available to individuals province-wide. During the last year and a half, however, due to COVID-19 restrictions, many Ontarians have not been able to access some of the healthcare resources they have been used to receiving, leading to an increase in patients being introduced to virtual care.

With many patients choosing to continue with virtual care for their regular healthcare visits due to its convenience and other unique benefits, providers across the province are beginning to offer virtual alternatives to meet the demand. With a wide range of telehealth solutions, and various ways of providing care virtually, it is important that healthcare providers are up to date on the best practices for providing this type of care. Here, we will cover 5 tips healthcare providers in Ontario can follow to ensure a successful virtual care experience for their patients, and staff.

Step 1: Assess The Needs of Your Organization & Patients

Depending on the nature of your healthcare organization, your patient’s individual needs will be unique from others. If your practice is a Community Health Centre, for example, you likely see patients of all ages, with varying health conditions or concerns. In most organizations, healthcare providers care for some of the same patients repeatedly.

When assessing whether your organization and the patients it cares for could benefit from utilizing virtual care, some key things to consider are: How far patients must travel to receive care, whether in-person assessments are required for their condition, and whether they are open to the idea of virtual care. It is also important to consider how telehealth can benefit your organization. If there is room to enhance efficiency and increase or maintain your number of patients while saving time on regular healthcare processes, it is likely that telehealth would be beneficial to your organization.

Step 2: Utilize A Well-Rounded Telehealth Solution

Elderly couple speaking with doctor through video call

Ontario has a wide variety of healthcare organizations, each specializing in different areas of patient care. Some of the main health services in Ontario include: Home and Community Support Services, Community Health Centres, General Hospitals, Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinics, and Psychiatric Hospitals. Regardless of what category your healthcare organization falls under, it is important that the telehealth solution you use contains features that are specific to your organization and its patients.

With well-rounded solutions, your organization can customize various aspects of its telehealth offerings. For example, patients living with chronic conditions can manage their illness through features like virtual care pathways. For those who require less-frequent care, features that can be beneficial include video conferencing and secure messaging for virtual appointments. By opting for a virtual solution that is customizable, and that can meet all of your patients’ needs, your organization will be able to increase the number of patients who are able to benefit from it.

Step 3: Ensure Your Patients Have The Right Technology

Technology is often a barrier that gets in the way of successful telehealth implementation. With some solutions, specific devices must be used by patients and healthcare staff in order to conduct virtual appointments and monitor symptoms. To maximize the number of patients who are able to access virtual care from your organization, a solution that can be utilized across various devices should be used.

While there are still some individuals who do not have access to any smart devices, research shows that the vast majority of Canadians own a smartphone of some kind. In fact, 87.6% of Canadians are likely to own a smartphone according to Statista. For patients with this technology, telehealth platforms such as aTouchAway can be easily accessed and used from anywhere. These patients can enter their health data directly into the aTouchAway app on their smartphone and send it directly to their healthcare provider. By ensuring your patients are already equipped to utilize your telehealth solution, you can begin providing care virtually without any hassle, or added expenses.

Step 4: Maintain Patient Engagement and Satisfaction

Smiling female doctor waving to screen

When transitioning to telehealth, many healthcare providers have concerns over the quality of care they will be able to deliver to patients. Although virtual care involves less in-person communication, there are still plenty of ways to keep patients engaged and fully satisfied with the level of care they receive.

Doctor Ted James’, who wrote about his initial struggles with keeping patients engaged in this article, lists some great recommendations for maintaining high-quality care through telehealth. James mentions that ensuring you are comfortable with the technology you are using, maintaining a professional video presence, and communicating both verbally and visually with patients are all important steps in keeping them engaged. For healthcare providers in Ontario who would like to keep patients engaged while providing care virtually, following these steps can help ensure patients are satisfied with their virtual visit.

Step 5: Evaluate Success

In Ontario, Patient-Reported Experience Measures (PREMS) are commonly used to gather feedback from patients about their healthcare experiences. Providers can get this feedback through standardized surveys or questionnaires that their patients can fill out after their healthcare visit.

When measuring the success of virtual healthcare visits, providers in Ontario can ask patients if they would like to fill out one of these questionnaires to describe their experience. This can help organizations determine what things patients like or dislike about their virtual visits, so they can make adjustments where needed.

Continuing To Provide Enhanced Virtual Care Appointments

Elderly man on call with female doctor

For many patients and healthcare providers, virtual care appointments are still relatively new. As people gain more experience utilizing telehealth solutions and become more comfortable with their various features, the transition to remote care will inevitably become easier. By utilizing a well-rounded solution, conducting a needs assessment, ensuring patients can access their virtual care platform seamlessly, and keeping appointments engaging, healthcare providers can do their part to improve the overall virtual care experience for patients.

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