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Telemedicine is too useful to be abandoned post-pandemic: Montreal Economic Institute

Certainly there has been more than enough pain brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in Canada it has magnified many of the shortcomings of our healthcare system, taken nearly 26,000 lives to date, and wreaked havoc on our economy.

But despite the bad, there may also be some positive developments that persist long after this current hardship has taken its toll. 

The inconveniences of the lockdowns and safety restrictions have forced our society to adapt in nearly every realm, and, in some ways, accelerated advances that were slow in coming.

This post from the Montreal Economic Institute outlines that one of these innovations has been the liberalization and increased adoption of telemedicine.

Krystle Wittevrongel writes that by mid-April in 2020 emergency room trips were down to half of what they had been a year earlier. And while this ER avoidance has led to complications for some patients who should have sought treatment, reductions in certain common non-emergency complaints did not actually result in worse patient outcomes overall.

This shows that 1) there was certainly overreliance on emergency room visits prior to the pandemic, but also that 2) telemedicine is a viable alternative in many cases to in-person checkups, and can facilitate safe delivery of care outside of the emergency room department for some conditions.

Adopting permanent telemedicine strategies beyond the pandemic, such as Alberta has already committed to doing, just makes sense, Wittevrongel argues. 

“People of low socioeconomic status have been shown to use emergency departments more than others. So in addition to improving access for rural and remote patients, the use of telemedicine is reducing ER reliance and likely increasing access to health services for people of low socioeconomic status — a true win-win.”

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