College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario invites comments on draft virtual care policy

COVID-19 pandemic has sped up adoption of virtual care: health lawyer

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario invites comments on draft virtual care policy

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is asking for feedback by Nov. 22 on the new draft virtual care policy and the draft advice to the profession document, the policy’s companion resource. The regulator is seeking input on whether the draft policy offers valuable guidance to physicians, whether the expectations stated in the policy are clear and reasonable and whether there are issues that have yet to be addressed by the two draft documents.

The new virtual care policy acknowledges the shift toward remote connectivity and platforms that allow patients to access healthcare without ever entering a clinic, said a blog post of Rosen Sunshine LLP.

The COVID-19 pandemic has sped up the adoption of virtual care, said the post of the Toronto-based boutique health care law firm.

“Although health care providers and patients alike were forced to adapt to new means of remote treatment as a result of a temporary (at least hopefully) pandemic, virtual care will likely remain a permanent fixture in Canada’s health care system” the post added.

On the consultation page on its website, the regulator also encouraged interested individuals to answer the specific questions in its online survey.

The draft virtual care policy retains the current telemedicine policy’s core expectations, including that physicians should keep meeting the standard of care regardless of how they deliver healthcare but adds new expectations clarifying when and how to provide virtual care appropriately.

Physicians are expected to use their professional judgment to decide whether virtual care is appropriate in each case and are expected only to offer virtual care if such is in the patient’s best interest, meaning that the physician can ensure that the quality of care will not be compromised or that the potential benefits of virtual care outweigh the risks.

The following factors affect the question of whether virtual care is in the patient’s best interest:

  • the nature of the presenting complaint and the required care;
  • the patient’s health status and healthcare needs;
  • the patient’s circumstances and preferences;
  • the technology that the patient can access and the patient’s ability to effectively use such technology.

Physicians are also expected to confirm that the physical setting where the patient is receiving virtual care is appropriate and safe if the virtual encounter involves real-time interaction and are expected to use technology that does the following:

  • fits the purpose;
  • facilitates a quality encounter;
  • enables compliance with the standard of care;
  • supports the sharing of high-quality and reliable patient health information;
  • enables the gathering of the necessary information.

The draft policy notes that the legal obligations to safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of patients’ personal health information apply to virtual care, so physicians are expected to adopt reasonable steps to protect such information against threats such as theft, loss and unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

The draft virtual care policy also lays out the college’s expectations regarding acquiring informed consent, providing care to patients outside the province and the applicable licensing requirements.

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