What is 'telemedicine', and how can Quebec's health care system benefit from it?


Modern technology can allow people to access bank accounts or buy clothes or concert tickets without having to physically be in a particular place — so why aren't we able to use that technology to get health services, and get them quicker?

The concept of "telemedicine" exists — a recent study from the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) found one per cent of Canadians use some form of virtual care. As things stand now, it is possible to consult a doctor online, who would be able to diagnose most illnesses remotely and be able to write you a prescription at the end of the consultation. Services like Maple, Akira and Dialogue can provide access to online doctors for patients living in Quebec, but the service isn't covered by your medicare program, which means it would cost you out-of-pocket.

Pascale Dery, the vice-president of communications and development at the MEI, tells CJAD 800's Natasha Hall that governments are aware of the concept of telemedicine, but that several obstacles exist before the concept is regularized.

"The public health care system is run by government, and everything that is really run by government is more bureaucratic," Dery says. "There's always more regulation associated to it, so there's a lot of hurdles and obstacles. If we could reduce a few of them, it would already improve access to health care and people would benefit form this," Dery says.

Another significant obstacle to cut through would be to allow doctors from out-of-province to treat patients. To practice outside of their home province, doctors would have to purchase a licence to practice somewhere else, and pay every year to keep it up.

Dery suggests any of these improvements would help solve many of the problems plaguing the health care network, including reducing wait times and the chronic overcrowding in our clinics and emergency rooms — and provide cost savings for governments, as an added bonus.

She says it's only a matter of time before governments catch on to the new technology, and its benefits. "It's a win-win for everybody," she says.