Delivering Virtual Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • March 27, 2020
  • Rozmin Mediratta, Wise Health Law

On February 4, 2020, the OBA’s Health Law Section hosted a panel discussion titled “Professional Regulation in the Age of Technology” as part of its 2020 Institute program[1]. Among other things, we discussed virtual care and whether Ontario health colleges’ existing policies are adaptable and relevant. Little did we know how timely that discussion was about to be. 

In the midst of COVID-19, technology has enabled health care professionals to provide care without in-person interactions that could expose themselves or others to the virus. Virtual care also allows providers to “see” more patients, increasing the amount of care being provided.

Several Ontario health colleges, including the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (“CPSO”) and the College of Nurses of Ontario (“CNO”), are introducing new measures such as relaxing or expediting their existing registration processes, reinstating formerly licensed practitioners, and creating temporary classes of registration to increase the number of licensed practitioners available to provide care in an effort to help support Ontario’s healthcare system—virtual and in-person.

In a public health emergency such as COVID-19, virtual care is also a tool to assess and triage. Thousands of lines have been added to Telehealth Ontario, and Ontario residents are being encouraged to call in for a virtual assessment by a registered nurse before going to the hospital for a diagnosis or treatment. Ontario has also added a temporary billing code for physicians that allows physicians to more flexibly bill for virtual visits. Based on a virtual assessment, individuals may be referred by their primary care provider or Telehealth Ontario to an assessment centre for an in-person assessment. These centres, which are by referral only, are helping to ease the pressures on hospital emergency departments[2]