Move will 'help relieve pressure on the health system during the pandemic'
Saskatchewan is expanding capacity to provide secure, responsive virtual health care in the province.
The Ministry of Health and eHealth Saskatchewan are now developing an action plan to enhance virtual services, focusing on security, privacy and user experience.
“It is critical that we have the appropriate systems and technology in place to support virtual health care services, for the safety of both our residents and health care providers,” said Paul Merriman, minister of health. “We know that investing today will improve patients' access to care and support privacy and security of health information. It will also help relieve pressure on the health system during the pandemic.”
Earlier this month, the federal government announced it is investing $6.5 million under a bilateral agreement with Saskatchewan to help the province expand virtual health care services for its residents.
Currently, the province is exploring a new secure videoconferencing solution to replace the current Telehealth technology, to meet clinical needs across the health system.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority is also working on the rollout of an auto-dialer system which notifies residents by phone or text within 24 hours of a lab-confirmed negative COVID-19 test result. People who test positive continue to receive a phone call from public health.
The province is also looking to improve its remote patient monitoring and MySaskHealthRecord.
Remote monitoring is already being used to support more than 1,000 Saskatchewan residents who tested positive for COVID-19, as well as patients with other health concerns. One health care provider is able to monitor up to 100 patients at a time as they recover in their homes.
Meanwhile, MySaskHealthRecord, eHealth Saskatchewan's patient portal, allows people to view their lab results online, including COVID-19 tests. More than 180,000 Saskatchewan residents can currently access their records.
The investment will help improve the process of providing care for both physicians and patients, said Dr. Vern Behl, SHA senior medical information officer.
“Physicians are open to new ways of providing services to residents, and having more virtual care options will ultimately improve residents' access to care,” said Behl.
“In addition to secure videoconferencing and messaging solutions, investment will be needed to ensure improved information flow which is foundational to good virtual care, moving away from our paper based systems to electronic Health Information Systems. This allows for improved patient and family engagement and involvement in their own care, as well as better communication between our health care teams. It is encouraging to see investments in technology that will support this important work.”
From March to December 2020, Saskatchewan patients participated in more than 1.7 million virtual appointments with a physician, according to the government.
While the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated use of virtual care technology, expansion of technology solutions is helping improve access to care for residents in rural or remote areas, and providing greater convenience for patients who need to connect with a physician for basic concerns, said the government.