In light of society’s ever-changing needs, virtual care has stepped up to play a bigger role in Canadian healthcare. Many new telemedicine providers are entering the virtual care market, but not all of them follow best practices to ensure patient safety. For organizations looking to provide their employees with better access to health and wellness services, it can be a daunting task to determine which virtual care providers deliver the best quality of care. Here are 10 points to consider to ensure patient safety when selecting a virtual care provider.
1. Meet the same quality standards as physical care
It goes without saying that a virtual care provider must adhere to the same regulations, standards, and best practices for patient assessments and follow-ups as during an in-person visit. If, for instance, the patient’s condition requires a heart examination, including an electrocardiogram or an ultrasound, the assessment must be performed in a setting that has the necessary equipment on hand, not via telemedicine—just as a patient at a smaller clinic would be directed to a hospital or a larger clinic in this case.
There are limits to the types of care that can be provided virtually, and these limits must be respected to make sure that the patient receives the same expected outcomes—the right prescription, referral, or lab tests—as they would receive following an in-person consultation.
2. Maintain an adequate technological setting
A virtual care provider must be equipped with the right technological tools to deliver optimum care. Videoconferencing should be prioritized over a phone call, if the patient has access to the technology. The virtual care team must also have a stable internet connection, conduct the consultation in a private and secure setting, have secure access to the patient’s electronic medical record (EMR), and use secure, user-friendly software to transmit information to the patient or other practitioners on the patient’s care team.
3. Define a clear scope of practice
Having a clearly defined scope of practice is essential for patients, practitioners, and providers alike. On the patient side, a clear scope of practice ensures patients know and understand in advance what can and cannot be treated via telemedicine. This helps manage their expectations and streamlines the process. If a condition is outside the scope of telemedicine, the patient will be notified as soon as possible so that they know what they should do without delay.
On the virtual care provider side, a clear scope of practice guarantees that everyone on the care team understands what they can and cannot provide care for. This way, everyone is on the same page and has the tools they need to care for the patient, not just in the immediate moment, but also as the condition evolves.
On the practitioner side, a well-defined scope of practice safeguards their practice and avoids putting them at risk. It provides a safety net for the practitioners and does not set them up to fail—the same rules apply to everyone, meaning a practitioner won’t end up having to do something they don’t feel comfortable with because it’s out of scope.
4. Anticipate, meet, and exceed patient expectations
When possible and safe, a virtual care provider should strive to anticipate patient needs, meet these needs, and exceed their expectations. To do so, providers can follow up with patients; leverage the latest technology to retrieve vital patient information (for instance, using tech-enabled screening questions to gather relevant information from the patient and direct them to the right medical resource); provide services on a range of health issues, from common mental health issues (anxiety, depression, insomnia) to dermatologic infections and eruptions; or simply help them navigate our complex healthcare system.
5. Provide equitable, patient-centred access to healthcare
A cornerstone of virtual care is the ability to provide equitable access to all employees, regardless of their position within the company, from the receptionist to the CEO. Virtual care providers should have a well-defined intake process in order to provide fair, equitable, standardized service to everyone. Because the scope of practice is not discretionary, there should be no discrimination. It’s very clear what can and cannot be treated virtually.
The care provided should also be patient centred. At Dialogue, patients can access care around the clock, every day of the year, including evenings and weekends, via text, phone, or video, as they prefer. Dialogue uses software that is compatible with what most patients have (web, Android, or iOS) so that it’s accessible to all, including those with auditory or visual impairments, for instance. At Dialogue, patients also have access to a multicultural, multigender, and multilingual team so that they feel comfortable. For instance, if a patient would feel more comfortable speaking with a woman practitioner, they can make that request.
6. Provide timely, efficient, and effective service
In healthcare, time is of the essence. Issues need to be assessed and treated promptly to avoid complications or negative outcomes. Instead of booking an in-person appointment several days or a week away, then travelling to a clinic to sit for hours in a waiting room, patients can access care as soon as they notice symptoms, instantly receive a consultation, and either receive a diagnosis and recommended course of treatment or be steered in the right direction (to see a specialist, a physician in person, etc.).
7. Measure the success of the care provided
Another important aspect of virtual care is assessing and tracking whether the care provided was adequate. Providers can do this through patient follow-ups and by providing clear and accessible information to patients on their conditions and their expected recovery paths.
Some providers, like Dialogue, also track insights to measure patient usage and satisfaction, calculate ROI for the organizations that use their services, and assess if the service is improving employee well-being overall.
8. Use the knowledge at hand to take action
AI technology has an important role to play in today’s healthcare environment and virtual care is particularly well-suited to leveraging its full potential. A good virtual care provider will use the latest technology to sift through large volumes of data to quickly identify health issues, triage patients, record clinical notes, analyze patient records and improve clinical processes.
Information such as patient records, test results, and monitoring data can be shared instantly and securely with all members of a patient’s team, experts in their fields who may be located across the country. This incredibly rapid access to information, paired with practitioners’ expertise, enables virtual care providers to offer optimum service and make well-informed recommendations.
9. Stay abreast of current regulations
A virtual care provider must stay abreast of current regulations and be prepared to face new challenges in the field as they emerge. Having an internal medical board and a medical compliance specialist , as Dialogue does, ensures compliance with medical protocols, industry regulations, and evidence-based best practices.
Virtual care also raises unique privacy and security concerns not as prevalent in in-person visits due to its use of technology, communication infrastructures, and remote environments. Virtual care providers need to take every precaution to ensure patient privacy. Dialogue is the only virtual care provider in Canada compliant with SOC 2 Type 2, ensuring that it follows strict data security policies and procedures.
10. Communicate clearly and efficiently with patients and their other healthcare providers
Following diagnosis, a good virtual care provider will deliver a written care plan to the patient. With the patient’s consent, their medical record can easily be shared with other healthcare providers to ensure everyone has the same, up-to-the-minute information to provide optimum care.
Virtual care providers like Dialogue use technology to coordinate multidisciplinary healthcare teams spread across the country to deliver the best patient outcomes. Instead of a fragmented experience, where the patient and HR team have to juggle different services and programs separately, a virtual care provider such as Dialogue delivers an integrated approach that combines all the health and wellness services into a single app, allowing for better communication and ease of use.
Finally, oversight is key. In addition to the 10 above-mentioned points, your chosen virtual care provider should have a dedicated team to ensure that they deliver on all their promises.
When looking for a virtual care provider, it’s critical for an organization to ask questions about patient safety. Use these 10 points as your guide. The health and wellness of your employees depends on it.