Caregiving and doctors online: a virtual fit

We asked our Elizz readers: ‘When it comes to your parent’s health, have you ever accessed an online doctor?’ The responses varied, from yes, through private pay or provincial health coverage, to ‘no, and I never will’ and to ‘no, but I would like to or plan to in the future.’

The growth of virtual care

The reason we asked the question in the first place is because virtual care (also referred to as telemedicine) is on the rise in Canada. Virtual care means any interaction between patient and a health care practitioner which occurs remotely.  Remote communication can be in the form of secure text, audio, or video visits.

Interestingly, Canada does lag behind other countries like the United States and the United Kingdom in terms of using technology to transform the way we deliver and receive healthcare services. At this moment in time,  provincial governments, the Canadian Medical Association, and private pay services like Maple are all recommending “scaling up virtual care in Canada.”

At Elizz, we are particularly interested in how daughters and sons caring for their aging parents, can benefit from virtual care. Many of the stories we hear revolve around the stress and worry about mom or dad’s health. Here is a synopsis of how this stress and worry plays out in a daughter or son’s mind.

Common internal dialogue when your mom or dad is sick: it’s not pretty

Imagine you are talking to your mom or dad, either over the phone or face to face.  Based on what they are telling you about their symptoms (or how they are feeling or how they sound or look to you), the question arises:  Should they be seen by a doctor or go to the emergency department of their local hospital?

Depending on the context, numerous things will be running through your head.

If you suggest they wait and call their doctor the next day for an appointment you will never forgive yourself if you find out later they needed immediate medical attention. And realistically, you think to yourself, have my parents ever been able to get in the next day for a doctor’s appointment?

For these reasons, you are leaning towards taking them to emerg or suggest they call 911 for an ambulance. You realize there will be hours and hours of waiting at emerg and wonder again whether it is necessary.  You are also mindful of the time.  You are thinking about your work commitments the next day and how tired you are going to be.

If you are at work at the time, you are worried about what others will think if you leave early and it turns out not to be an emergency. Then you give your head a shake: “That doesn’t even matter if something is really wrong!  What to do? What to do?”

“Should I go see for myself?” Seeing how bad it is (or isn’t) will help me decide what to do.” Depending on the time of day of this conversation, it may take time to get to your parents. Or maybe you live so far away that this isn’t even a realistic plan.  If it is an emergency and it takes you an hour to get there, that hour will be lost time for medical interventions. “Maybe, it is best to just call 911.”

“But then again, maybe it’s just the flu, and after a day or so, all will be well again.” You know how exhausting it will be for your parents to have to get dressed and spend hours at the hospital.

You wonder whether your mom or dad are minimizing their symptoms, or whether they are being overly dramatic.  “Maybe I will call one of my sibs and see if they can help me.” You wish one of your sibs was a doctor!

You frantically replay things over and over in your mind. Your parents are looking to you for some guidance and in fact, seem to be leaving it to up to you to choose.

Are you exhausted yet?

If you are exhausted reading the above synopsis, imagine living it! If you have already lived it, then I don’t need to tell you how stressed and anxiety provoking it can be when your mom or dad is sick.

Having access to an online doctor, within minutes, seems to be a dream come true, an answer to the quandary about what to do.  As the above synopsis highlights, these quandaries typically come up in relation to urgent issues that need a quick triage to resolve.

In a an 2018 survey,  conducted in 27 countries, only 10% of respondents had used telemedicine [virtual care] but 44% would try it if was available. I am willing to wager that a significant percentage of those 44 % were caregivers. A fair share of our Elizz readers said they would consider accessing a doctor online or said they found it interesting and were planning on it in the future.

At Elizz we will be exploring further the expansion of virtual medicine in Canada, and the potential impact on caregiving. We will keep you posted.



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