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Event summary produced by The Globe and Mail Events team. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

How might Canada leverage the momentum of the pandemic to build digital health care for the long term? The Globe and Mail hosted a webcast on November 5 to discuss lessons learned, strategies and next steps for virtual care in the digital era.

The event began with a panel discussion among health care providers and experts (Part 1), followed by a panel of technology innovators sharing their perspectives on opportunities and hurdles (Part 2). André Picard, health reporter and columnist with The Globe and Mail, moderated the event.

Watch the full discussions below. Highlights from the panels appear below the recordings.

Part 1: Lessons learned and next steps

Below are key takeaways from the first panel discussion:

Physicians have navigated a learning curve

Dr. Inderveer Mahal, a family physician in Vancouver, said through the pandemic, health care providers have had to figure out the types of patient care best suited to digital versus in-person. From her experience with telemedicine during the pandemic, she has found digital tools are great for reviewing bloodwork results with patients, monitoring medication and sharing information, but she prefers in-person visits to share serious diagnoses and assess conditions such as new-onset back pain. Dr. Mahal said patients who don’t live near clinics can now access the care they need virtually. She works with patients in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, many of whom don’t have a cell phone, let alone an Internet connection. In response, providers have converted neighbourhood clinics to technology hubs and equipped shelters with telemedicine tools, bringing health care right to patients, she said.

Digital health care is here to stay

Panelists addressed the question of what happens after the pandemic. Many wonder if health care will return to traditional in-person services. Dr. Sasha Bhatia doesn’t think so. As chief medical innovation officer with Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, he noted health care providers at the hospital are delivering 80 percent of patient care services virtually during the pandemic, and 100 percent of mental health care services. Phone consultations are also making it easier for patients who lack privacy at home to access care by speaking with physicians while out on a walk, for example. Patients have grown accustomed to receiving test results by phone or video call and he doubts they would accept a return to inefficient trips to a doctor’s office for routine care, he said. He also noted asynchronous care, such as email, would help expand capacity in the system even further.

Access to technology is fundamental

Digital health care requires equitable access to technology and medical devices, noted Laura Endres, vice-president and general manager with Dexcom Canada. During the pandemic Dexcom’s glucose monitoring devices have played a bigger role in helping patients and their physicians manage diabetes remotely. The devices also allow patients to keep track of their glucose levels while engaging in day-to-day activities from home, reducing the risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19. The technology provides better quality patient care and cost efficiencies but only if patients have access to the devices, Ms. Endres said. Many private insurance plans cover the cost of the devices and she would like to see government plans follow suit.

Part 2: Perspectives from technology innovators

Takeaways from the second panel discussion are below:

Patients are now at the centre

Traditional approaches to health care focused on providing systems and tools for providers, not patients, said Azadeh Dindayal, vice-president of marketing with IDENTOS, a digital identity technology company. The mindset has created silos in the system but digital health care is giving rise to new opportunities to put patients at the centre. She referred to a project IDENTOS is supporting, called Niagara Health Navigator, an app allowing patients to learn about and access a range of health care services in their region, and replace in-person services with digital. Because of the old approach to health care, patient privacy hasn’t been addressed to the extent it needs to be for the digital era, she added, but projects are underway at the national level to enhance privacy and data interoperability.

The cloud is supporting transformation

Peter Jones, health care industry lead with Microsoft Canada, said virtual platforms such as cloud computing are enabling better communication between patients and their care teams. Many hospitals have aging legacy infrastructure, making it increasingly difficult to manage security, privacy and compliance. There’s a strong case to be made for shifting data and operations to the cloud for enhanced security, he noted. Health care researchers already use the cloud to collaborate and access next-generation tools such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Digital platforms such as Microsoft Teams are enabling patients to manage their chronic conditions from home instead of in hospital – providing time and cost savings, he added.

Digital health care removes barriers

Even before the pandemic, statistics showed two-thirds of individuals won’t go talk to someone about their mental health issues, said Sam Duboc, chair and CEO at MindBeacon group, a provider of virtual mental health treatments and services. In the midst of the pandemic that number is likely much higher, he added. Digital health care provides convenience and privacy. Clients can access services online, at their own time and from home or their offices. They can also focus on the type of help they need, from an education session and information resources to a full therapy session or quick check-in. The approach saves time for clients and practitioners, reduces costs and connects care teams together to treat patients holistically, Mr. Duboc said.

Watch the full video above.

The Digital Health Care Fast-Track webcast was presented with support from Dexcom Canada, Microsoft Canada and MindBeacon Group.