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Research Questions

  1. What is known from existing research about the potential societal impacts associated with the adoption of telemedicine?
  2. What are the quantifiable impacts of telemedicine usage for Canadian society?
  3. What are the existing barriers challenging the adoption of telemedicine in Canada?
  4. How can the existing barriers be addressed to unlock some of the potential associated with the increased use of telemedicine?

Telemedicine has been available in Canada for a while but its uptake before the COVID-19 pandemic has been slow. The pandemic has since changed how people in Canada access healthcare by hastening digital transformation in the sector. Pre-pandemic, Canada was behind its international peers in its use of telemedicine. Now, many patient consultations, both primary and specialist, are conducted virtually.

RAND Europe researchers examined the potential impact in Canada of continued, long-term use of telemedicine, which can include the use of 'smart' devices to conduct medical tests, the digital storage and sharing of medical records, and real-time tele-consultations between healthcare providers and patients. They looked at the quality, access and cost of telemedicine, the barriers that have led to its relatively slow adoption, and what the economic effect would be of an increase in uptake.

The study found that, alongside the benefits from tools such as telemonitoring and digital health records, widespread use of teleconsultations could lead to significant benefits for Canadian patients, the Canadian economy, and wider Canadian society. The findings directly contribute to the evidence base in telemedicine and virtual healthcare more generally.

Key Findings

  • Evidence in the literature shows that, for some health settings, such as in the management of chronic conditions, telemedicine can generate comparable and even improved healthcare outcomes for patients.
  • By saving work and leisure time, a permanent increase in tele-consultations can generate as much as CAD 5bn a year for the Canadian economy.
  • Teleconsultations can improve the Canadian health system by leading to fewer missed appointments and lowering the use of emergency departments for minor issues, saving CAD 150m a year if used effectively.
  • Teleconsultations could help reach Canadians in communities where medical care is harder to access and improve their wellbeing, worth up to CAD 600m a year.
  • In Canada, there are significant technical, socio-economic, and regulatory barriers to a permanent increase in the use of telemedicine and tele-consultations.

Recommendations

  • Ensure technical interoperability of electronic health records.
  • Develop user-friendly solutions through the private and public sectors and provide relevant education and training to healthcare staff.
  • Provide healthcare staff with the skills and training necessary to develop telemedicine.
  • Continue to address existing health inequities and improve digital health literacy.
  • Develop a provincial or local strategy to address jurisdictional barriers in Canada.
  • Modify the existing Canadian fee system to ensure doctors are reimbursed for using telemedicine methods.
  • Develop national standards for patient health information access in Canada.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    The potential societal impacts of adopting TM

  • Chapter Three

    Quantifying the potential societal impacts associated with the use of TM in Canada

  • Chapter Four

    Barriers to the adoption of TM

  • Chapter Five

    Conclusions and recommendations

Research conducted by

This research was prepared for Telus Canada and conducted by RAND Europe.

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