Insights (Essays)

Insights (Essays) August 2021

How Innovative Technology is Paving the Way for More Patient-Centric Care

Juggy Sihota

Sihota 

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on all aspects of our lives as well as the broader health system we depend on. The pandemic presented a unique challenge in that as we tried to preserve the capacity of our health system, maintain our own physical health and the health and safety of others, our mental health declined.

The impacts to our mental health are significant and not going away any time soon. Languishing – the neglected middle child of mental health – is emerging as the dominant emotion of 2021. This feeling is the void between being depressed and flourishing – the absence of well-being. In essence, we are not functioning at full capacity.

But who can blame us? Quarantine and isolation have kept Canadians away from the support of friends and family. Mixed and unclear messaging surrounding the pandemic has increased anxiety among them. The lack of predictability, increasing layoffs and fluctuating lockdowns have also negatively impacted many business owners and working Canadians, adding to financial stress. Parents also faced new challenges as the pandemic disrupted daily lives. Women who tend to perform a larger share of parental tasks took on new roles as teachers for children who shifted to homeschooling or tutors for those doing virtual school for the first time. Working moms, in particular, were disproportionately affected as many faced the difficult decision to quit their jobs so that they could accommodate these new roles in the absence of any outside support – and on top of the demands of running their homes. 

These issues, paired with an already stretched health system and overextended healthcare workers, have made managing the pandemic a complex balancing act. How do we tackle this virus while preventing other health priorities, such as our mental health, from falling through the cracks? 

Addressing our Collective “Joyless and Aimless” State

If you find yourself feeling worried or anxious about your health, the health of loved ones, finances, work, your children’s education and more, you are not alone. According to Statistics Canada, since the onset of COVID-19, only 55% of Canadians reported having excellent or good mental health. This represents a 13% drop from the 2019 reports.

With situations rapidly deteriorating for many, something has to be done immediately.

Addressing multiple mental health challenges requires a multi-layered approach. Much as one would have a clinical team supporting their recovery from an injury or illness, we need to make mental health a priority as well. This means leveraging all resources and tools available to us as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Technology enables access to support and interventions that address concerns across the mental health spectrum – from tools that help build resilience with relevant content and proven exercises to services that allow direct access to professionals during periods of crisis.

As a virtual care service provider, TELUS Health is able to connect those in need of care and support where and when they need it the most while simultaneously easing the burden placed on hospitals and hospital emergency rooms. Virtual care can be tailored to help address a patient’s many mental health needs as we cannot take a “one size fits all” approach. 

Created in collaboration with members of Canada’s front-line and first responders, and under the guidance of specially-trained physicians, Espri by TELUS Health is a virtual service that can be customized to help an organization provide access to mental health support for employees or members. 

Understanding the Role of Virtual Care in Health

The demand for virtual care grew rapidly following the onset of the pandemic. COVID-19 was the catalyst for change in a system where silos and barriers had traditionally limited the reach and capacity for virtual care. There are three important studies that help illustrate the same:

Firstly, according to a May 2019 Canada Health Infoway survey, only 4% of primary care visits in Canada were conducted virtually. This number now sits at 60%.

Secondly, in February 2020, CMAJ reported that less than 25% of Canadian family physicians made themselves available by email, and only 4% provided video visits. By June 2020, virtual care represented more than 70% of ambulatory care provided by hospitals and doctors’ offices.

Lastly, a Canada Health Infoway study from 2020 highlighted a number of key findings on virtual care, including a patient satisfaction rating of 89% and that on average each patient saved $100 (based on parameters such as money saved from childcare costs and taking time off work) with a virtual visit. The study also showed that over 75% of the virtual visits were covered by the provincial government.

Last year, we witnessed the huge Canada-wide spike in interest and adoption of virtual health – to say that Canadians have embraced this trend since the onset of the pandemic is an understatement. In just over a year, TELUS Health has enabled millions of Canadians to access quality care from the safety of their homes through virtual means. As an organization that is rooted in social purpose, drives improved health experiences by supporting healthcare professionals and citizens, and takes care of the communities where Canadians live and work, the pandemic has presented TELUS Health with an incredible opportunity to help and we are only getting started.

About the Author(s)

Juggy Sihota is the vice president of Consumer Health, TELUS

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