Many of us think nothing of hopping in the car or onto transit to get to a doctor’s appointment. Sitting in the waiting room and having a conversation about symptoms or course of treatment are actions that may be, at worst, a scheduling inconvenience. Day-to-day tasks like these might seem straightforward to many people, but they can present barriers to those with any kind of cognitive or physical difficulties, or who have dependents who face these challenges.
A virtual approach could suit some needs better than in-person appointments. British Columbia has seen a massive increase in Virtual Health visits since March of 2020 and for many individuals and families, these remote methods of accessing health care could represent a new and improved health care experience.
This is the case for Micheline Wiebe, provincial director of Trauma Services BC, whose son Carter, 11, is both severely autistic and diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. In-person doctor’s appointments with his pediatrician in Kelowna are largely very stressful for Carter, who, “under normal circumstances, bolts out of the room, punches or kicks, and flees the clinic.” Often, Micheline can’t finish his appointment unless there’s another person available to look after him while she speaks with his doctor. “At our last in-person visit, he fled and I stayed to finish with the doctor. I could hear him in the car honking the horn steadily for fifteen minutes because his grandmother struggled to help him manage his behaviour.”
For most of his appointments, there’s no real need for Carter to be seen in person at a doctor’s office. He’s non-verbal and won’t comply with physical assessments unless – if it’s absolutely necessary – he's sedated. Carter is extremely adept, however, at independently using assistive technologies on his iPad. He uses FaceTime regularly to connect with his parents while they’re not at home with him, or with his grandparents in Saskatchewan. This works really well because he is exceptional at interpreting facial expressions. That’s why Virtual Health visits are so well suited to his individual case: it’s just like FaceTiming with his doctor.
The recent transition to attending his appointments from home have made an enormous difference to Carter’s care.
“Virtual Health has made our visits more patient-centered,” says Micheline. “Keeping a child like [Carter] in his own safe and anxiety-free environment has been a valuable experience; it’s more efficient for us and his doctor, way less stressful, and it allows both my husband and I to participate for the first time ever! In addition, I don’t have to medicate or sedate him.”
For Carter (and, by extension, Micheline), Virtual Health visits have been a welcome variation in health care as they suit his needs much better than in-person visits. Micheline is hopeful that the recent uptick in virtual care will “[encourage] health care providers to continue to work differently and embrace new traditions and professional norms that may be more appropriate for individual patients and situations.”
The Office of Virtual Health leads and provides strategic direction for the overall Virtual Health initiative across PHSA. For more information, please visit the OVH webpage
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