“I truly believe there’s going to be more virtual health care in the future than there is in-person health care – I just don’t know when it’s going to happen – but we’re on that road and it’s inevitable,” shared OTN CEO Dr. Ed Brown during a recent interview with the Patient Critical Podcast.
PJ Mierau, host and managing director of Patient Critical Co-Op, a Canadian patient-owned not-for-profit that gives patients a voice in health care, opened the interview observing that digital healthcare delivery in Canada is still in it’s infancy, but in every province, telemedicine is experimenting with what will become “just plain old health care” in years to come.
After sharing OTN’s vision of every Ontarian having easy access to the best health care where and when they need it – with virtual care being the key – Dr. Brown discussed a number of OTN services and initiatives, such as eVisit, or secure videoconferencing. OTN’s core and longstanding offering, eVisit helped avoid some 270 million km in travel for patient appointments last year, enough to get to the moon and back 340 times, said Dr. Brown.
“It’s also green – people don’t have to travel, get on a plane or bus or burn carbon fuels,” he said.
eVisit not only removes the time and stress involved with travelling to appointments, but it enhances access to care from anywhere, whether it’s connecting to a specialist or to your family doctor through eVisit Primary Care. The latter initiative is particularly exciting, said Dr. Brown, because it enables patients to initiate online contact with their doctor when they need to.
For those with conditions like chronic lung disease and heart failure, the remote monitoring and self-coaching program Telehomecare has proven to be an effective self-management support over the last decade. Nine out of 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) are using it and data show a 60-80 per cent reduction in hospitalization for participating patients. And when it comes to mental health, online community Big White Wall, recently made available free to all Ontarians thanks to government funding, is being enthusiastically embraced as a tool to cope with depression and anxiety.
“Everything we do has a win-win formula to it”; when you create new care processes supported by technology, they can provide better customer service and be more efficient at the same time, noted Dr. Brown. However, even though many virtual initiatives have had great success over the years, scaling them across our complicated and heavily regulated healthcare system remains challenging.
Consumers are not the issue because they’re ready to go with their smartphones; it’s the healthcare system that needs to catch up, he said. OTN is driven by the goal of making it as easy as possible for providers and the healthcare system to integrate new approaches that improve patient outcomes and the patient experience.
“I’m a huge advocate of bringing patients into design events – you need to connect with people who have lived experience,” he said. This often shines a light on issues such as fragmented care delivery, challenges in accessing care, and poor communication.
Dr. Brown spotlighted OTN’s work on its new consumer-focused platform, which has been tested with consumers to ensure it’s relevant and clear. He said that for co-design to be successful, it “can’t be the side show, it has to be the main show,” and when working with patients “you have to listen, understand and come up with solutions that reflect what they’ve said.”
He shared that OTN is exploring a new co-design initiative looking at ways to support patients living with chronic disease better within primary care.
Listen to the full interview here.