This paper will be presented at the Annual CAHSPR Conference in May 2021.
Due to mandated physical distancing by governments across the globe, a greater proportion of primary care is now being offered on virtual platforms to ensure patients continue to receive care in the safety of their homes. In Ontario, Community Health Centres (CHCs) rapidly adopted and shifted their primary care services such as chronic disease management, palliative care, counselling, dietitian visits, etc, and health promotion programming such as yoga sessions, cooking demonstrations, art therapy, etc.
This mixed methods study aims to examine how CHCs shifted and implemented virtual care during COVID-19, and explore the impact of virtual care on providers and their patients using quantitative and qualitative data. Data sources include an organizational survey, semi-structured phone interviews with providers and patients, and utilization data extracted from the electronic medical record.
Preliminary results are suggesting that the transition to virtual care has increased patient’s access to care, in particular for those with mobility issues, or live in areas with limited/costly transportation. However, patients of CHCs located in rural areas or those with low incomes are struggling to access primary care due to digital inequity and/or low digital literacy. Providers have found they are able to manage their time more efficiently including seeing a reduction in the number of missed/cancelled appointments. However, they have experienced challenges in not being able to read their patient’s body language and the inability to do a physical assessment. Overall both patients and providers would like to have virtual appointments as an option going forward.
Although brought about because of the pandemic, rapid adoption of virtual care will have a lasting effect on how we provide care to patients now and in the future. It is therefore imperative that we understand which aspects of care and for which populations is virtual care best suited for.