Pocket doctor: Is online health care the way of the future?
Published Friday, May 20, 2016 10:15PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 20, 2016 11:44PM EDT
Sometimes, it can take weeks to get an appointment to see your family doctor. If you go to a walk-in clinic, waits can often stretch for hours. In a world where smartphones are changing how we bank, commute and communicate, several companies are now offering Canadians the chance to keep a doctor in their pocket.
“The feedback from patients has been overwhelmingly positive,” Dr. Shazeen Bandukwala of the new Akira app told CTV News. “I hear back from patients saying, ‘you just saved me a two hour walk-in clinic visit.’”
Launched this week in Toronto, Akira is offering virtual medical visits via their smartphone app. Akira doctors can even write prescriptions, order lab tests and refer you to specialists.
Telehealth apps and websites, which already exist in the U.S., have been called the Uber of health care. The convenience factor is exactly why Catalina Lopez signed up for Akira.
“I didn't have to sit in a waiting room for three hours to see a doctor,” Lopez told CTV News. “It was very convenient and it worked in the way I worked.”
Another service is called Ask the Doctor. Initially an online platform to ask doctors questions, the Canadian company is now offering direct patient-doctor visits in the U.S. and Ontario via text and video streaming.
“We find much of our traffic spikes when family physicians are not available,” Dr. Michael Warner, chief medical officer of Ask the Doctor, told CTV News. “It’s evenings, weekends and Friday afternoons… There are gaps in the current system and we fill those gaps in a way that is convenient for patients.”
Akira is currently available for a monthly fee of $9.99. Ask the Doctor is only available through employer health programs. Both services are hoping to eventually be covered by provincial health care plans. By diverting patients away from walk-in clinics and emergency rooms and by eliminating overhead, both believe they can save our healthcare system money.
“Governments subsidize physicians for their office,” Warner says. “They won’t have to pay for bricks and mortar.”
While both companies say they have secure websites and that all data and test results are secure and private, researchers who are just starting to look at this emerging field say the potential comes with questions.
“It’s proven that hackers can get into anything and take data,” Ryerson University information technology professor Reza Aria says. “We don’t want that data to end up in the hands of the wrong people.”
Although no one believes that a face on a screen can replace a doctor’s steady hands when it comes to serious diseases and emergencies, in a world where consumers like options, a doctor in the pocket may just be another solution.
With a report from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip