Opinion: Virtual care underutilized in Alberta

Virtual care is an important yet underutilized service in Alberta’s healthcare system. It typically involves communicating with a healthcare professional over a video call to tackle a patient’s issues and diagnose their condition.

This process has many benefits for Albertans, yet, a large portion of Albertans are not aware of the service or even how to access it.

Virtual care serves to benefit both urban and rural areas. This is especially important in Alberta, where both major cities and vast rural areas are prominent.

For urban areas, a major benefit of virtual care involves limiting the transmission of diseases. An individual is able to seek a diagnosis and treatment without leaving their home and risking unintentionally spreading whatever disease they may have to other people. This has become increasingly relevant now more than ever given that we live in a post Covid-19 world.

In addition to limiting transmission, there are many direct benefits for individuals as well. One of which is the time and money that can be saved by avoiding going to a physical location. Going to a doctor can take a significant amount of time, most of which does not involve getting treated. The vast majority of time is spent while commuting to and from the location which is not a factor when using virtual care.

Along with time, money can also be saved by choosing virtual care. With oil and gas becoming increasingly expensive, cutting down on these costs by limiting travel can make a huge difference for many Albertans.

In rural areas, the main benefits of virtual care are for the individuals. Doctors are typically located further away in rural areas which results in even greater time and resources required to get treatment. Some individuals may even avoid getting the help they may need if they feel that their symptoms are not serious enough to warrant the large time and resource investment to get treated.

However, if virtual care is so beneficial, then why are more Albertan’s not utilizing the service? While many factors are at play, the two most significant factors are the lack of information among the general public and the limited number of clinics offering the service. The next government must address these factors to insure a greater quality of care for Albertans.

To address the issue of information, the next government should work to actively promote the service so that more people are aware of its existence. On top of this, the government should put out more easily accessible information for the public to inform themselves with as well.

As for increasing the number of clinics that offer virtual care, policies should be put in place to incentivise clinics to do so. Whether it be through financial aid or even outright requirements, new policies need to be implemented to resolve this issue. It is imperative for the next government to find ways to improve our virtual care service, a service that has the potential to positively impact the lives of so many Albertans.

Aryan Timilsina is a pre-med and computing science student studying at the University of Alberta.

Jordanya Edwards is a civilian volunteer at an army cadet corps and a pre-med student studying at the University of Alberta.

Peter Anto Johnson, MSc, BSc(Hons) and John Christy Johnson, BSc(Hons) are medical clerks practicing at the University of Alberta and mental health advocate practicing in Bonnyville, AB.

Austin Mardon has the Order of Canada and the Medal of Honour from the Canadian Medical Association. He has lived experience with schizophrenia and homelessness and uses his story to help others living with mental illness.

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