WINDSOR, ONT. -- With COVID-19 amplifying the use of virtual care, the Windsor-Essex and Ontario Chambers of Commerce are calling to make it a permanent feature within the health system.

Virtual visits have allowed more people across the province to access health care while not exposing themselves to COVID-19. A new report by the Windsor-Essex Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), 'Realizing the Full Potential of Virtual Care in Ontario' highlights the importance of making virtual care a permanent option.

“We are now more virtually connected than ever before, and how Ontarians are interacting with the health care system reflects this fact,” Rocco Rossi president and CEO of the OCC, said in a Windsor-Essex Chamber news release. “We can't make the same mistakes we did with SARS, by only implementing temporary measures related to virtual care. The permanent integration of virtual care into our system could ensure all Ontarians can access timely and appropriate care, no matter their circumstances, as well as alleviate some of the pressures facing our health care system, such as reducing unnecessary visits to the ER.”

The report offers four recommendations for the Ontario government to ensure virtual care made permanent but is also more equitable and accessible:

  • Develop a comprehensive framework for virtual care in Ontario.
  • Modify the existing fee code system to allow for the permanent delivery of virtual care and provide physicians with training and knowledge supports to allow care to be delivered virtually.
  • Focus on equity to improve access to virtual care, including ensuring all Ontarians have internet access so that the expansion of virtual care options does not exacerbate inequities for patients in rural, remote, northern, and Indigenous communities.
  • Support employers’ continued investment in virtual care for their employees that expand beyond care delivered virtually through the health system.

The release says the recommendations were developed with the OCC’s Health Policy Council.

“Long before COVID-19, Ontario’s health care system faced numerous pressures and growing costs. By empowering patients to manage their health while at home, virtual care has the potential to reduce the strain on primary care providers and hospitals, lessen the backlog in care, and protect frontline workers from exposure to the virus,” said Rakesh Naidu, president and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Chamber. “We are calling on the Government of Ontario to consider urgent policy reforms such as modifying the existing fee code system to allow for the permanent and effective delivery of virtual care in Ontario.”

The report says virtual care is not just about convenience but has benefits for the healthcare system as a whole and that virtual care should be viewed as another modality for care to be delivered to “complement, not replace” in-person visits.