How has COVID-19 affected the use of virtual care/telemedicine in the healthcare system?

Bottom line:

COVID-19 has caused a drastic rise in virtual care usage, which carries both benefits—such as avoiding infections that may have occurred at an in-person appointment—and risks, such as technical difficulties and the inability to perform physical examinations.


Webster, P. et al. Virtual health care in the era of COVID-19. The Lancet (2020). DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30818-7

Date Published:

11 April 2020


COVID-19 has extensively impacted healthcare systems, in ways including changing how care is delivered for non-COVID-19 medical conditions. The risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) during in-person meetings has caused healthcare systems to dramatically shift towards video-calling services to provide care for many conditions, a process known as ‘virtual care’ or ‘telemedicine.’ The President of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Sandy Buchman, has stated that Canada is working to decrease logistical and regulatory barriers to virtual care in order to support healthcare providers in smoothly transitioning to this method of healthcare delivery. Benefits of virtual care include lowering the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection by avoiding in-person medical appointments, high accessibility as patients can connect with their phones or personal computers, and the low cost required to set up virtual care. While the benefits are substantial, potential harms of virtual care may be caused by factors including the inability to perform a complete physical examination and technical/IT difficulties in using the video-calling service. Future adoption of virtual care must be done in a timely yet thoughtful manner, maximizing the benefits offered by telemedicine while minimizing the risks.

Summary by: Jacob Ferguson