Virtual care, as implied by the name, is the provision of health care by means other than physically seeing a health care provider. Virtual care makes use of several platforms such as phone, email, and video call in providing care to patients, while protecting their privacy.
Although, Canada is one of the pioneers in providing healthcare virtually to patients, this mode of care provision has not been able to establish its roots as extensively as we see in other countries. However, over the COVID-19 pandemic situation we have seen a significant rise in the provision of care through virtual modalities. This may have been partly a result of the COVID-19 social distancing measures in place and partly because of the ease and convenience that virtual health care offers.
In providing virtual care, most primary care centers (such as clinics and pharmacies) ensure that their patient’s information is kept protected by employing secure networks.
In Ontario, patient’s privacy and confidentiality is protected by two laws:
1. The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act also known as PIPEDA, which is a federal law. For more information, visit https://www.priv.gc.ca/en/privacy-topics/privacy-laws-in-canada/the-personal-information-protection-and-electronic-documents-act-pipeda/pipeda_brief/
2. The Personal Health Information Protection Act also known as PHIPA, which is a governmental law. For more information visit https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/04p03
In Ontario, before using a certain Virtual health platform, clinics and pharmacies ensure that it is compliant with both PIPEDA and PHIPA so that patients can freely discuss their health issues with their health providers without having to worry about their privacy and confidentiality.
One such platform is Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) and it is free to use for patients. If you have a computer/phone with camera and an internet connection, you can easily see your doctor virtually for a health consultation. You may find it even more useful in this COVID-19 pandemic situation when social distancing and self-isolating is extremely important. For more information visit https://otn.ca/patients/ . In case, if you don’t have an internet connection, other options would be setting up a phone appointment with or emailing your physician.
When it comes to pharmacies, free telephone consultation with pharmacists is the mainstay or virtual care. However, more and more pharmacists are now offering their services through video calls over a secure network such as Skype, Zoom Basic or Google Hangouts. So, if you have any questions regarding your medical therapy, you are having an ailment that needs to be addressed or you need to learn how to use a medical device it can always be done in a during a free virtual consultation.