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Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, only about 5 per cent of Vancouver-based Peak Resilience Therapy’s sessions were conducted remotely. Like seemingly everything else, that all changed overnight this past March.

“Literally one day we were seeing clients in the office, the next day we were closed and seeing clients online,” explains Peak Resilience’s founder and clinical counsellor, Jennifer Hollinshead.

Ms. Hollinshead wasn’t sure how her clients would react to the transition. At first, when it appeared physical distancing measures would only last a few weeks, Peak Resilience’s 20 counsellors saw a 90-per-cent drop in appointments. As restrictions continued, however, about three-quarters returned.

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“More and more clients are recognizing that online counselling might have to be better than nothing for right now,” she says. “That being said, my whole team, myself included, are noticing that as we continue to provide Zoom sessions we’re getting better and better client sessions; we’re having breakthroughs all the time now.”

According to Ms. Hollinshead, what began as a temporary solution is now being widely accepted as a viable alternative to traditional counselling, and her case is not alone. In fact, many industries that provided primarily in-person services just a few months ago may never operate strictly in-person again.

“I think this has transported us five or 10 years ahead in terms of video counselling,” Ms. Hollinshead said. “A lot of our clients have said they actually prefer it.”

A paradigm change of this magnitude typically happens gradually, and is often the result of a new generation incorporating their native technologies into the workplace as they reach positions of influence.

“You’re seeing the rapid acceleration of that which sometimes take an entire generation,” explains Steve Pemberton, the chief human resources officer of Workhuman, a human capital management software solutions provider. “Necessity is not just the mother of invention, but also the mother of adaptation; now there's no other way to stay connected than becoming a quicker adopter.”

Mr. Pemberton explains that it’s not a question of either or, in-person or remote. Instead he believes that after the crisis a number of industries will adopt a hybrid model, allowing customers to use whichever method is more convenient for them.

“You’re going to still see your doctor, but now you’ll be adjunctively cared for virtually as well,” explains Amit Mathur, a practising optometrist and president of telemedicine platform CloudMD.

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As of 2018, only 3 per cent of Canadians had experienced a video consultation with a medical professional, according to a study by Canada Heatlh Infoway. Dr. Mathur, however, estimates that about 70 per cent of routine family medicine practices can be conducted virtually.

“It's not necessarily for their first visit where you’re physically assessing them,” he says. “You're going to still see your doctor [in person], but now you'll be adjunctively cared for virtually as well.”

Dr. Mathur adds that his area of practice, optometry, has been quick to adopt telemedicine, as have physiotherapists and occupational therapists, family practitioners, nurses, walk-in clinics, psychologists and more. He believes that those who have adopted the technology out of necessity in recent months will continue to offer hybrid services after social distancing restrictions are lifted.

“The adoption rate of telemedicine has gone up exponentially; what used to be a three-year adoption curve is happening at a rate of three months, by necessity,” he says. “What is it going to look like afterward? We expect it to be incorporated into much more practices, to some degree, and that they use it as an adjunctive form of care.”

Dr. Mathur adds that the shift to telemedicine is part of a wider trend toward on-demand assistance, where customers are able to access the services they need from their own devices at their own convenience. The transition has already touched other sectors such as mobile banking, video streaming and on-demand ride hailing, but is now rapidly accelerating into others in reaction to the pandemic.

In the future, many of the roles we previously considered quintessentially in-person are likely to adopt this hybrid model, which could result in significant time and cost savings for both customers and businesses.

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“With an online business my overhead is very, very low,” says Chad Hargrove, a Toronto-based personal trainer and fitness coach. “I can also handle more people at the same time, so it's more efficient.”

Mr. Hargrove explains that one hour in-person training session can cost between $60 and $150, but customers can get the same one-on-one experience over Zoom for just $300 a month, effectively making personal training accessible to more Canadians.

“These changes that we had to make were things we weren’t doing, not because they weren’t better, but because they were different, and a hassle to change,” he says. “Now that we’ve been forced to deal with some hassles some people are going to discover that the thing they were avoiding was actually better all along.”

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