The majority of patients living with a heart condition, stroke or vascular cognitive impairment, and their caregivers, want virtual appointments to continue after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey done by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
More than 3,000 people from across Canada participated in the survey, and more than half said they want online care to stay post-pandemic.
Dr. Heather Williams, a Prince Edward Island neurologist, said the survey results mirror what she's heard from patients at her neurology practice and the stroke clinic she works at.
"For simple things, I think [virtual appointments] add an extra layer of being able to better communicate with people on a more consistent basis. But definitely there are times where it is much better to be in-person, and in an ideal world maybe we would do that 100 per cent of the time," she said.
The pros and cons
Williams said the ability to conduct appointments remotely was essential in allowing the stroke clinic to continue operating during the pandemic.
"Especially for stroke patients where time is of the essence in the stroke clinic where we're trying to make rapid decisions to help prevent another stroke from happening, it was really important to keep going with the clinic and not just shut it down completely."
She also said there were some major benefits of doing virtual appointments.
For some of her online consultations, Williams was able to do a conference call and have a patient's family members who lived off-Island join the appointment.
Williams also said patients who usually travel a few hours for an appointment that might only take five to 10 minutes appreciated the virtual option.
But there were also negative aspects of online appointments.
"My practice is a pretty hands-on practice as a neurologist," said Williams. "We are one of the specialties that rely heavily on physical exam findings to help guide what tests are needed, or what treatments are needed. So not being able to see people in person was really a big challenge from that perspective."
Williams also said communication can be difficult especially for patients who don't have phone access, lack good internet connection or may have hearing loss and can't hear well over the phone. For such cases, Williams said she tried to book in-person appointments when possible.
'We're not used to this technology'
Yogi Van Wiechen, who lives in Brooklyn, P.E.I., suffered a stroke in August 2019. He had online appointments with his physiotherapist in Charlottetown throughout the pandemic, in addition to getting in-person visits from a local physiotherapist three times a week. There were some downsides for Van Wiechen in doing virtual appointments.
"We're at an age group that we're not used to this technology and that we would have to learn how to do virtual," he said.
I don't think virtual care will ever completely replace in-person appointments. - Dr. Heather Williams, neurologist
While Van Wiechen said he'd prefer in-person physiotherapy, the online appointments have been helpful for his physiotherapist in Charlottetown to monitor his progress.
As for the future of online appointments, Williams said she's hopeful Health PEI will consider continuing the practice post-pandemic.
"Whereas I don't think virtual care will ever completely replace in-person appointments, I think it is a really good addition to the care that we're already providing," she said.
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