Virtual visits can benefit patients and the health system

Virtual care is quickly becoming commonplace during the current health crisis as a way to keep patients, clinic staff and their families safe. However virtual care isn’t new, and Zoomer Radio recently interviewed Dr. Ramana Appireddy, Assistant Professor, Neurology, at Queen’s University Department of Medicine, about his experience with virtual visits. Here’s a look at what he had to say.

When he sees patients who’ve had a stroke or suspected stroke, the first visit is the most important one for Dr. Ramana Appireddy, Assistant Professor, Neurology, at Queen’s University Department of Medicine. This is where he gets to know patients, hear their stories, examine them and develop a plan for diagnosis and treatment.

Subsequent follow-up visits are what he described in a recent interview on Zoomer Radio’s The Tonic as “low demand clinical activities.” These include reviewing test results, checking on symptoms and discussing treatment options. For these types of activities, Dr. Appireddy prefers to use virtual visits if patients are comfortable with this option. Patients use their own devices to connect, and Dr. Appireddy is able to check on their symptoms, do some video examinations, and provide test results and treatment options.

In a six-month pilot project, Dr. Appireddy was able to have follow-up visits with about 40 per cent of his patients virtually. This reduced wait times in his clinic. He also did a study that showed his patients loved virtual visits because this option saved them a lot of trouble, energy, time and money.

“We saw patient satisfaction go through the roof during this time,” he said. It’s especially helpful for patients living in remote areas. Some of his patients are a two-hour drive from Kingston, meaning a four-hour return journey to see him to have what could be a five-minute chat.

“Around 20 per cent of Canadians live in rural areas in Canada and virtual care can be quite transformative for them, especially in winter weather,” he said.

Around 20 per cent of Canadians live in rural areas in Canada and virtual care can be quite transformative for them, especially in winter weather.

A misconception is that older people don’t use technology, but they do, he said. The oldest patient he saw was 94.

Virtual visits also make it easier to check on which medications patients are taking, as they can hold them up to the screen on their device. Patients don’t always remember to bring their medications to in-person visits.

“There’s also a huge economic argument to adopt virtual care in Canada. Patients spend a lot of money to come to the hospital for their appointments, and this is hard, especially on seniors who are living on a fixed income,” he said. Hospitals also spend a lot of money to provide outpatient care — close to $300/patient/visit. “So, by adopting virtual care, we can save a lot of money for Canadians and our health care system.”

Dr. Appireddy  acknowledges virtual care isn’t for everyone — some don’t have or want to use the technology. “Having said that, the majority of patients and their family are very appreciative.”

Click here and go to the 18:24 mark to listen to Dr. Appireddy’s interview.

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