North

Yukon doctors see untapped potential in 'virtual care'

Yukon doctors this weekend are learning about ways to 'meet people where they are,' by using technology to overcome distance.

Technology offers 'opportunity to provide care to people in non-traditional settings'

The Yukon Medical Association is hosting a 'virtual care summit' this weekend, for doctors to learn more about how to work with patients other than face-to-face. (Eric Rankin, CBC)

Yukon doctors are learning about ways to incorporate more "virtual care" into their practices this weekend — essentially, working with patients other than face-to-face.

It could be a simple phone call, or remote video imaging, or listening to a stethoscope over the Internet.

"It's going to be an opportunity for all the physicians across the Yukon to get together and talk about the potential we see for this, for our patients here," said Dr. Katharine Smart, incoming president of the Yukon Medical Association (YMA) which is hosting the "virtual care summit" in Whitehorse.  

"I think what we see is a real opportunity to provide care to people in non-traditional settings, such as their home. Especially in a place like the Yukon where there can be big travel distances to come and see the physician."

According to the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), Canada was an early pioneer in virtual care in the 1970s, but has since fallen behind many other countries. 

"Very few visits in Canada are virtual care — probably less than 1 per cent," said Dr. Sandy Buchman, president of the CMA. He's in Whitehorse for this weekend's summit.

"I think we've just been slow to adopt the technology."

'Canadians are embracing it'

Buchman said it's not because patients are resistant.

"Quite the opposite actually ... Canadians are embracing it wholeheartedly, from millennials to seniors," he said.

Buchman said part of the problem is regulatory — for example, physicians in one province or territory can't easily deliver care in another jurisdiction.

Another issue is convincing governments to invest in virtual care. 

Buchman said Canada hasn't invested enough money into virtual care to make it part of doctors' routine visits, even though it's cost-effective.

He said concerns over privacy and confidentiality can also be addressed with proper regulations — as is done with things like online banking and shopping.

For Smart, president of Yukon Medical Association, it makes sense that Yukon doctors should be talking more about this. She calls virtual care an opportunity to be patient-centred.

"Sort of meet people where they are," added Smart.

"One of the things we hope it will do is give us more opportunity to use our time more effectively and be able to see more patients."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story misspelled the names of Dr. Sandy Buchman and Dr. Katharine Smart.
    Nov 04, 2019 3:43 PM CT

Written by Paul Tukker, with files from Christine Genier

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