For Immediate Release
December 11, 2020
Ontario and Sault Ste. Marie Chambers of Commerce call for virtual care
to become a permanent fixture in health care system
Report outlines solutions to tackle the backlog in healthcare and ensure
all Ontarians have access to timely and appropriate care
Sault Ste. Marie – This week’s report from Ontario’s Auditor General has put the spotlight on virtual care. While telemedicine sites have been in place for decades in Canada, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of virtual care in Ontario. Virtual visits have enabled more Ontarians to continue accessing quality health care while not exposing themselves to COVID-19. The latest report by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) and the Ontario Chamber network, including the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce (SSMCOC), ‘Realizing the Full Potential of Virtual Care in Ontario’, underscores the need to permanently integrate virtual care into Ontario’s health care system.
“We are now more virtually connected than ever before, and how Ontarians are interacting with the health care system reflects this fact,” says Rocco Rossi President and CEO of the OCC. “We can't make the same mistakes we did with SARS, by only implementing temporary measures related to virtual care. The permanent integration of virtual care into our system could ensure that all Ontarians can access timely and appropriate care, no matter their circumstances, as well as alleviate some of the pressures facing our health care system, such as reducing unnecessary visits to the ER.”
According to Canada Health Infoway’s September 2020 survey, 60% of health care visits with primary care physicians and specialists were conducted virtually at the onset of the pandemic.1 The report notes that given the uptick in virtual care usage, the resurgence of the pandemic in a second wave, and an uncertain timeline for a vaccine, a more permanent and comprehensive solution is needed.
“Long before COVID-19, Ontario’s health care system faced numerous pressures and growing costs. By empowering patients to manage their health while at home, virtual care has the potential to reduce the strain on primary care providers and hospitals, lessen the backlog in care, and protect frontline workers from exposure to the virus,” adds SSMCOC CEO, Rory Ring. “We are calling on the Government of Ontario to consider urgent policy reforms such as modifying the existing fee code system to allow for the permanent and effective delivery of virtual care in Ontario.”
The report explains that, while the implementation of temporary billing codes in March 2020 allowed physicians to conduct virtual visits, these temporary codes were a stop-gap measure and have limitations.
The report provides the Government of Ontario with four recommendations to ensure virtual care is not only permanently integrated in our health care system, but is more equitable, accessible, and widely adopted:
- Develop a comprehensive framework for virtual care in Ontario.
- Modify the existing fee code system to allow for the permanent delivery of virtual care, and provide physicians with training and knowledge supports to allow care to be delivered virtually.
- Focus on equity to improve access to virtual care, including ensuring all Ontarians have internet access so that the expansion of virtual care options does not exacerbate inequities for patients in rural, remote, northern, and Indigenous communities.
- Support employers’ continued investment in virtual care for their employees that expand beyond care delivered virtually though the health system.
These recommendations were developed with the OCC’s Health Policy Council, a group of expert practitioners and industry representatives.
The report explains how virtual care is not solely about convenience for patients, but it also benefits the health care system as a whole. Further, virtual care should be viewed as one modality in which health care can be delivered, and should continue to complement, not replace, in-person care.
“Looking beyond the pandemic, virtual care holds much promise and we believe our recommendations can help the Province realize the full potential of technology for patients and our health care system alike,” adds Rossi.
The OCC would like to thank members of the Health Policy Council whose input helped shape this report.
About the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce
The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce is a not-for-profit organization comprised of 700 plus businesses and agencies in Sault Ste. Marie and has been serving the needs of this community since 1889. The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce will lead the way as the voice of business, advancing economic prosperity for its membership and the business community. Learn more about the SSMCOC at www.ssmcoc.com.
About the Ontario Chamber of Commerce
Together with almost 140 member chambers of commerce and boards of trade and our network’s diverse 60,000 members, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce is the indispensable partner of business. For more than a century, the OCC has undertaken important research on Ontario’s most pressing policy issues, advocating for solutions that will foster the growth of Ontario businesses and lead to the creation of jobs in the province. Our mission is to convene, align, and advance the interests of our members through principled policy work, value-added business services, and broad engagement to build prosperity for all Ontarians.
1 1 A survey conducted by Leger on behalf of Canada Health Infoway between April 3 to August 25, 2020, with 31,889 Canadians.
For more information, please contact:
Rory Ring, CEO
Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce
705-949-7152, ext 6