Posted by Salman Khan & Courtney Bowen |

COVID-19 Accelerates Adoption of Virtual Healthcare Services in Ontario

Prior to the pandemic, healthcare in Ontario was mostly traditional in how it functioned as a publicly funded healthcare system, where patients and healthcare providers interacted in offices and clinics or hospitals. Virtual care was largely a premium service available to some covered by private insurance, or in specific circumstances via the government’s own telemedicine program. The COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity for innovation and growth in the Telemedicine market in Ontario.
 
Ontario Healthcare System Market Size
Ontario comprises the largest healthcare system in Canada with 492 hospitals, approximately 935 clinics, 14 million users, 866,600 workers in the healthcare and social assistance sector, and a total of 30, 492 physicians across the province. Clinics are licensed under the Independent Health Facilities Act and deliver services at no charge to patients who are insured by the Ontario Health Insurance Program (commonly referred to as OHIP). Approximately half of the clinics in the province are owned or controlled by physicians. The FAO (Financial Accountability Office of Ontario) projected healthcare spending to grow considerably from $61.3 billion in 2018-19 to $67.3 billion in 2020-21 and $73.3 billion in 2022-23, showing a 19.6 percent increase from 2018 to 2023.
 
Virtual Healthcare and the Pandemic 
A short history lesson, Canada was an early pioneer in the development of virtual care dating back to the 1970s when the late Dr. Maxwell used telephone technology to provide virtual consultation to patients in remote locations throughout Newfoundland. Jumping to 2020, virtual healthcare has emerged as a foundation in Ontario’s mission to protect its citizens and healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
As a response to the pandemic, the Ontario Ministry of Health made a commitment to modernizing care in Ontario by approving telemedicine and virtual care in the province to be covered by OHIP. To be more specific, the Ontario Ministry of Health introduced temporary billing codes and procedures to support virtual healthcare and the telemedicine market. Therefore, private healthcare providers are covered under Ontario’s Health Insurance Act when providing healthcare consultations for insured Ontarians via phone or video. This change has accelerated the growth of the telemedicine market as more Ontarians access virtual healthcare for the first time. As a result, Ontario has one of the largest virtual care (telemedicine) networks in the world, and patients and providers across Ontario have access to clinical video visits that are publicly funded by the Ontario Virtual Care Program.
 
Canadians are embracing virtual healthcare. Data collected by Canada Health Infoway shows that prior to the pandemic, only 20 percent of healthcare visits took place virtually rather than in a physical clinic, paling in comparison to the now 60 percent of visits which take place virtually. Patients accessed virtual care through different channels including phone calls (40 percent), video (11 percent) and email/chat (5 percent).
 
Don’t Forget Your Mental Health!
Mind and Body, the two should not be seen as separate entities. Just as maintaining good physical health can prevent disease, nurturing one’s mental health can maintain a better quality of life, enable creativity, foster learning, and ultimately combat mental illness. The feelings of stress, anxiety and fear are commonplace during a pandemic. Recognizing this, the Ontario government has taken steps to support Ontarians during this time. “Roadmap to Wellness: A Plan to Build Ontario’s Mental Health and Addictions System” is a strategy put forth by the Ontario Government to improve mental health services for communities across Ontario. As part of this strategy, the Ontario government has pledged to invest $3.8 billion over the next 10 years to develop and implement a comprehensive and connected mental health and addictions system for Ontarians. Bringing together Ontario’s once fragmented mental health and addictions system is no small feat. Thus, the new Mental Health and Addictions Centre of Excellence within Ontario Health was created as the foundation of the Roadmap to Wellness and will be responsible for system management and coordination of service.
 
The temporary billing codes rolled out in March for virtual healthcare also include the delivery of psychotherapy, primary mental healthcare and/or counselling services. The support for mental healthcare services did not stop there, in May of this year the Ontario government announced plans to expand virtual mental health services to Ontarians during COVID-19 to help Ontarians experiencing anxiety and depression. The Internet-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (iCBT) programs developed in partnership with MindBeacon and Morneau Shepell are to be provided at no out-of-pocket cost to Ontarians.
 
Private Industry Taking Notice
With virtual healthcare now being covered by OHIP, Ontarians are in many ways spoiled for choice as more companies take advantage of the evolving industry. The pandemic created an opportunity in the Ontario life Sciences and healthcare sector for private companies to put their hats in the ring. CloudMD, Maple, Babylon Health and WELL Health Technologies are just some of the platforms that have taken root and grown in Ontario alongside a strong domestic virtual healthcare sector.
 
In a partnership with Telus Health, Babylon Health has found success in rolling out its services across Canada, available in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Babylon Health, a unicorn company based out of the U.K., is the developer of digital healthcare applications designed to make healthcare more accessible. With the support of Toronto Global, Babylon Health has continued its expansion across Canada to set up in Ontario once virtual healthcare was available through OHIP.
 
Furthermore, in response to the regulatory changes set forth by the Ontario government permitting the temporary billing codes; WELL Health was pleased with the decision by the government’s regulatory actions that support doctors and patients in Ontario. WELL has been ramping up its VirtualClinic+ telehealth program offering, enabling the company to operate as ‘Clicks and Mortar’ clinics with a combination of in-person and virtual care available to patients.
 
In Conclusion
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of virtual healthcare in Canada, Ontario and beyond. Ontario as the largest healthcare market in Canada offers a lucrative market opportunity for companies looking to partner, leverage and deploy virtual healthcare solutions. Toronto Global is your trusted partner when it comes to assisting companies in navigating the virtual healthcare sector in Ontario. We invite you to be a part of a growing and thriving life sciences and healthcare sector in the business and financial capital of Canada. 

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Salman Khan & Courtney Bowen

Salman Khan & Courtney BowenInvestment Attraction, Europe

Salman and Courtney work with U.K. and Nordic-based companies interested in expanding their operations to the Toronto Region. 

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