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Virtual care: what Albertans told us

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August Messenger 2022 | Posted August 11, 2022
Read time: 3 minutes

For CPSA, engaging with Albertans helps us understand how they view the work we do and what their priorities are when it comes to medical regulation and their healthcare experiences. In late 2021, we conducted a series of focus groups and participated in an omnibus survey to learn about Albertans’ experiences with and expectations of virtual care. Here’s what we heard.

Focus Group Findings

Through small focus groups, led by an external moderator, CPSA engaged with Albertans across the province from urban and rural locations, with a mix of age, gender, race, marital status, healthcare needs and those with and without virtual care experience.

Benefits of virtual care

Participants shared many perceived benefits to virtual care, including:

  • Ease of access and removing barriers to care.
  • More efficient appointments.
  • Improved access to physicians.
  • Reduced risk of spreading contagious conditions.
  • Easier to have family members attend appointments with the patient.
  • Opportunities to bring together a medical team from across the province or beyond to discuss patient care.

Concerns about virtual care

While participants generally shared positive views on virtual care, they also identified concerns and barriers:

  • Accessibility—do all patients have the required technology and access to a reliable internet connection? Are they comfortable using the tools?
  • Technical barriers—if the patient has trouble accessing virtual tools, does the physician’s office offer technical support?
  • Quality of care—is the physician able to take a holistic approach to patient care or is virtual care too focused on specific symptoms?
  • Communication—is the physician able to confirm the patient understands them? Can information be missed, such as by a missed phone call or an unread email?
  • Confidentiality—what assurances are there that personal information will be kept safe?
  • Impact on patient-physician relationship—does virtual care erode the personal connection between the patient and the physician?

Virtual care versus in-person care

Generally, participants saw virtual care as supplementing in-person care—not replacing it. While participants tended to appreciate the efficiency and flexibility of virtual care, many shared that in-person care allows the physician to be more thorough. In-person care was perceived to offer the physician opportunities to observe “the whole person,” which helps develop the patient-physician relationship and allows the physician to observe additional symptoms. Virtual care options were seen to limit these opportunities.

Many participants expected that, when using virtual care tools, both the physician and the patient must put in more work to fully communicate and ensure mutual understanding.

When virtual care is appropriate

Participants tended to agree that virtual care is appropriate for follow-up appointments, or appointments when a physical exam isn’t necessary. In general, participants felt virtual care was also well-suited for situations when the physician is familiar with the patient’s medical history or situation.

Virtual care should be patient-centric

Participants across all focus groups agreed that the use of virtual care should be a decision between the physician and patient made in the best interest of the patient.

Virtual Care Survey Findings

We also surveyed Albertans about their virtual care experiences in late 2021 through an omnibus survey of 900 Albertans, ages 18 and over. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20 (i.e., at a 95% confidence interval).

Here’s what we learned.

Virtual care versus in-person appointments

Almost half (47%) of Albertans who received virtual care say the experience was about the same as the care they would have received in a doctor’s office. Another four in ten say the experience was somewhat (34%) or much (9%) worse. A small proportion found the experience to be somewhat (5%) or much (2%) better.

Barriers to accessing virtual care

When asked what potential challenges or barriers they face in their lives that would make it difficult to receive virtual care from a doctor, a large majority (70%) say they face no barriers.

Among those who do face barriers, the most common reasons are:

  • a lack of access to technology infrastructure (9%)
  • not being comfortable with technology (7%)
  • concerns about the diagnostic limitations (4%)
  • the availability (1%) of virtual care

Questions?

Email our Communications team at info@cpsa.ab.ca to learn more about these research findings.

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