Care that fits into your life

You’ve heard it before, maybe you’ve thought it yourself:

In-person appointments are more effective.

Seeing my therapist online won’t offer the same support.

I might as well hold off on appointments until I can see my therapist face-to-face again.

Many individuals are skeptical about virtual appointments. It’s common to feel that something will be missing from a phone or video interaction, or that without an in-person connection, the clinician won’t see their experience. At ALAViDA, we have been offering virtual care to clients struggling with substance use challenges for five years. We’ve found that this form of treatment empowers clients to stay engaged with their lives while developing meaningful therapeutic relationships to support sustainable change. 

Virtual care isn’t a downgraded option; it’s a clinical model defined to increase the quality and accessibility of care. It is designed to produce positive outcomes and to give individuals the option to stay engaged in their work and home life without disruption while receiving the support they need. Virtual care has become popularized but it’s not a new concept. The U.S. is a leader in this model with cutting-edge services modelled by the Kaiser Permanente systems. 12 million health plan members had access to the healthcare services offered by Kaiser Permanente by 2020—80% of which was virtual. Despite these advances, access to virtual treatment is not uniformly distributed across the globe. 

Of the 85.5 million virtual contacts: 

  • 50% were phone calls
  • 40% were secure messages 
  • 10% were scheduled phone visits
  • 0.2% were video visits

But in Canada, the growth of telehealth and virtual care is slower moving. While COVID-19 has accelerated the emphasis on virtual care as a part of Canadian healthcare, integration lags. 

  • Studies show that 63% of Canadians would like the opportunity to email their health provider but only 24% of family doctors offer this service. 
  • 41% of Canadians wish to be able to engage in video visits with their healthcare provider, while only 4% of family physicians offer this service. 
  • 71% of Canadians would like to be able to book appointments electronically, however, only 9% of family physicians offer electronic bookings. 
  • A 2018 survey shows the interest that Canadians have in virtual care but only 8% had taken part in virtual care.
  • 69% said that they would take a virtual care appointment if it was available. 

Canada is no stranger, however, to adaptive methods of care delivery. In the 70s, Dr. Maxwell House introduced telehealth to extend the reach of care to isolated communities across the province of Newfoundland. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified that in under a decade, the world will face a global shortage of 18 million health workers. This burning problem can be circumvented through digital health. A global survey that included 27 countries showed that 10% of individuals had tried virtual care but nearly half of the population was interested in trying it. Virtual care has the potential to change the burden of chronic illnesses, according to WHO, 80% of which can be eliminated with early prevention.

Virtual care removes barriers to access including common roadblocks such as accessibility, affordability, geographical distance, travel burden, and out-of-pocket expenses. For people who live in rural areas or wish to consult with specialists at a distance, it offers unique opportunities for more specialized care. It is also useful in emergencies and as a mediator for emergency room visits. When it comes to substance use and mental health, virtual care enables the patient to seek support without the stigma of leaving work and taking big chunks of time out of their schedule which leaves them feeling vulnerable to judgment from management. It’s important to consider the anxieties and challenges that the older population may experience with this format and to consider approaches to reduce barriers to access. 

The evidence is robust that virtual care has an important place in healthcare delivery and can make a powerful difference. Still, only 1 in 10 companies have adopted virtual care technologies into their benefits plans. These choices do not represent the 71% of employees who state that they would access virtual care if it was available. It has the potential to change the workplace and put a dent in the downstream effects of absenteeism, presenteeism, and disability. It saves thousands, per employee, in absenteeism alone. Virtual care gives patients the opportunity to fit care into their schedule in a more flexible range of hours, to avoid long wait times, prevent interruption to work, less stress, convenience, and more regular touchpoints. Prevention and early intervention are the gold standards and with easy access and minimal compromise, employees can bypass delay to treatment and avoid more serious health consequences. 

Tips for your virtual care appointment:

  • Put the appointment into your calendar
  • Give yourself a few minutes before the appointment to change from a working mindset and decompress
  • Write down any questions you have for the doctor in advance
  • Engage in a relaxing activity while you wait for the call. It can help to journal
  • Prepare a glass of water
  • Try to take your time with your questions
  • Take some notes on what your care provider said after the call to reinforce your memory or jog it later
  • Talk it out with a loved one
  • Keep notes in your phone of things that come up in between appointments

Virtual care gives you the opportunity to stay on top of your health and connect with specialists from anywhere. Prevention can make the difference in your substance use and connecting with ALAViDA is a great place to start.

Access the ALAViDA TRAiL app.