virtualMED La Presse article aug19 virtual medicine blog

VirtualMED featured in La Presse (August 2019)

The following is a transcript of the article by Thomas Dufour that appeared in the August 13 edition of La Presse, highlighting VirtualMED.

Online medicine: an opportunity for private companies

Would you be willing to have a long-distance electrocardiogram using your cellphone? Or to consult with your family physician via videoconferencing? Canadians are increasingly open to the use of technology in healthcare, and telemedicine companies are reaping the benefits. Here’s a look at this rapidly growing sector.

With millions of dollars in financing and partnerships with artificial intelligence firms, university centers and American companies, it goes without saying that eHealth in Canada currently has the wind in its sails.

The proof is in the figures. According to an Ipsos survey published last week, Canadians want more online healthcare services. Four out of five people would like to have online access to their medical records. And 76 percent believe that the use of technology would make the healthcare system more efficient.

The planets are certainly aligned for companies in this sector. Over the past few months, several key players in the Canadian industry reported new partnerships and increased funding.

Last June, Dialogue Technologies, a Montreal-based private online medicine company, received 40 million dollars in financing, 12 million of which came from public pension fund manager Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ).

Dialogue’s clients consist of employers wanting to offer online healthcare to their employees. Founded in 2016, the firm currently has nearly 400 companies on its client list.

In only three years, the company has observed a significant spike in the popularity of eHealth. As Dialogue cofounder Cherif Habib explains, when they first started, the idea was a lot less present in people’s minds. Today, the company employs 200.

Artificial intelligence

To improve efficiency in medical data processing, a number of companies are turning to artificial intelligence (AI).

This is the case of the Montreal-based company VirtualMED, which this past April entered into a partnership with Health Tap, an American firm specializing in AI and telemedicine. The online service will be launched sometime between now and the end of the year in partnership with ExcelleMD, a private clinical care company.

From prescriptions and diagnostics to laboratory results and treatment plans, the services offered by VirtualMED will be more effective thanks to artificial intelligence.

AI will gather data by asking the patient key questions. Is your eye red? Is it running? Do you have any allergies? Once patients begin their consultation with a physician, the physician will already have all the necessary information to use as a starting point for a better diagnosis.

– Patricia Côté, Vice President of VirtualMED

Conventional training-based medicine tends to distrust companies that rely solely on artificial intelligence to make a diagnosis. Côté affirms that, at VirtualMED, the information is always verified and confirmed by a physician.

Online healthcare and seniors

With the aging population, the demand for accessible online services will only become greater.

According to outgoing President of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Dr. Laurent Marcoux, telemedicine will facilitate caring for the elderly.

Figures from the Quebec Statistical Institute indicate that the proportion of seniors in Quebec will go from 18 percent to 28 percent over the course of the next 50 years.

Dr. Marcoux adds that an aging population is synonymous with chronic illnesses. These illnesses could be treated more effectively through online healthcare. Seniors would be able to transmit information to their physician regarding the progression of their symptoms without having to make an appointment each time.

Quebec at the forefront

Remote healthcare didn’t just arrive in the province yesterday. In fact, as Cherif Habib notes, university centers have been using telemedicine to treat patients in the North for 30 years now. The entrepreneur believes that Quebec is one of the world’s leading pioneers in online medicine.

While sitting in their Montreal offices, Quebec physicians perform echograms on women in Nunavik, in the extreme northern part of the province. As Antoinette Ghanem, principal advisor of the eHealth Coordination Department at the The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) explains, the physician sees the baby via videoconferencing and then sends a report to the High North so that the mother can be treated on-site.

McGill University has been multiplying these types of initiatives for years. From a distance, MUHC physicians can examine patients, listen to their hearts and even calibrate their pacemakers.

Preserving treatment in person

Despite the craze for online medicine, it should never lead to the disappearance of direct contact between physician and patient, according to Marcoux. He affirms that care will always be based on human contact and compassion.

Patricia Côté of VirtualMED agrees wholeheartedly. She explains that it is often necessary to see the patient in person. Her company is based first and foremost on clinical treatment. The online service is simply used as a complementary means of improving patient care.

Antoinette Ghanem also agrees that telemedicine can never replace conventional healthcare services. On the contrary, she believes that it will help improve access to healthcare and the quality of the services.

SOURCE: Médecine en ligne : une occasion pour les entreprises privées [Online medicine: an opportunity for private companies] by Thomas Dufour (La Press, August 13, 2019)