With an incredibly high adoption of virtual healthcare services since the onset of the pandemic, it’s been an eye-opener to the truly limitless potential that technology can have with respects to our health. This explosion of telemedicine can encourage more people to use the services available to them, resulting in a physically and mentally healthier workforce and nation as a whole.
With a shift towards digital, it means it can replace the unnecessary need for face-to-face interaction, minimize healthcare costs, reduce absenteeism and limit the time needed to physically go to the doctor and avoid disruption among our everyday lives.
With an increasingly significant amount of pressure placed on our national healthcare system throughout the pandemic coupled with an aging population, advancements in technology will play a vital role in how we improve our collective access to healthcare.
But with technology moving at a speed that can be difficult to comprehend, there are certain grey areas with how these private technology platforms will be able to mesh into a public healthcare system.
Leveraging technology to disrupt and augment modern healthcare
First, let’s zoom out and take a high-level look at some of the connected technologies that are working to help us manage costs, improve patient care and mitigate this spike in chronic diseases.
- AI: It is suggested that machine learning can will improve diagnostic accuracy treating each pixel on an X-Ray differently. And froma move we are used to seeing,Desjardins is embedding AI into its employee assistance programs, as an initial point of contact, asking questions to clarify a plan member’s need, make suggestions and providing referrals. Babylon uses AI to triage the incoming telehealth requests/inquiries.
- Big Data: Cybersecurity, tracking a physician’s time to avoid burnout, chronic disease management, risk prediction, electronic health records – the synchronized big data evolution will only continue to expand within the healthcare ecosystem.
- Robotics: Health care is one of the leading industries in the adoption of robotics. They are being used in surgery, diagnosis and treatment.
- Connected care technology: Remote blood and heart monitors, automatic fall detection, mobile health apps and wearable fitness devices are increasingly becoming the norm.
Canadian telehealth giants are experiencing rapid growth
Technology isn’t just changing the way we interact and take advantage of mental health resources, the providers themselves are constantly adapting, consolidating and making their mark on Canadian healthcare at a tepid pace. They have capitalized on this window of opportunity by investing in their infrastructure and work to drive this new era in healthcare by gobbling up new platforms and are even transitioning their model to from a strictly telehealth platform to now be Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) providers.
- Do we need more consolidation? It’s only a matter of time until we are faced with this question – but can we, as a country actually support 32 and counting telehealth options? That would be absurd; of course not. There needs to be some consolidation.
- Growth mode and going public: Take CloudMD for example who are in high acquisition mode. They acquired Aspiria and Humanacare – who are EAP providers – and Snapclarity that they embedded into Humanacare. CloudMD also acquired Oncidium, one of the largest healthcare providers to the employer market in Canada. Telehealth giants such as Dialogue, CloudMD, and Maple experienced phenomenal growth last year, and are now even trading on the TSX.
- Turning to a hybrid model: We’re seeing that with the companies who have raised money now have EAP type features to be a progressive alternative that meets today’s employee’s needs. Some have partnerships with insurance companies to distribute and others are connected with online pharmacies. Sun Life recently white-labelled Lumino Health Virtual Care. Telus Health expanded Babylon to improve the options for accessing healthcare in addition to their Akira app.
How does the private model fit into a publicly-funded healthcare system?
Telehealth is not being billed as replacing traditional health-care, but rather it will be complementing its delivery to Canadians. Virtual visits have seen incredible levels of adoption in helping to fill in the gaps for those that struggle to have a primary doctor – especially throughout the pandemic.
The real question is how will this be used moving forward as an instrument in part with a publicly-funded healthcare system? And how will this new reality complement our benefits packages?
While Canada is still in the early days of telehealth services, these big telehealth companies are taking advantage of the grey area in the healthcare system while disrupting a $264 billion industry in Canada. And many ethical questions still persist like sharing secure information across platforms between healthcare professionals.
But this digital shift has been healthy to force the agenda of the Canadian government up a few years to take telehealth seriously in providing technology-driven offerings to patients. They have responded to these challenges of delivering health care during the COVID-19 pandemic by investing $46 million to expand their efforts on virtual health care in Ontario.
This is just a new channel to deliver medicine
With this incredible surge in availability and scalability, the telehealth landscape will certainly be getting a makeover in the few years, with not all that entered the game will still survive. And those that did will likely look considerably different than when they began, as they permanently embed themselves in Canadian healthcare.
With all the options that are available for free for people with provincial healthcare coverage, people need to be cautious when using telehealth services because some are for informational purposes, while others are for minor ailments, while the costs vary from different providers and have different pricing depending on when the call is made.
And while it’s still early on, in a few years we most certainly will drop the ‘tele’ prefix, because of how normal the combination of medicine and technology will be well engrained into our lives.