What are the preferences of Ontario patients and healthcare providers regarding ‘virtual healthcare’ visits?

Hand, Woman, Medical, Human, Care, Treatment, Finger

Bottom Line:

Virtual healthcare visits – visits that do not involve a face-to-face meeting between the patient and provider – are perceived as high-quality by Ontario patients, and both patients and healthcare providers prefer message-based visits over phone or video visits.


Stamenova V. et al. Uptake and patient and provider communication modality preferences of virtual visits in primary care: a retrospective cohort study in Canada. BMJ Open (2020). DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-037064

Date Published:

6 July 2020


Virtual healthcare visits are healthcare appointments in which there is no in-person meeting between a patient and their provider. In virtual visits, the patient and provider may communicate with each other at the same time, known as synchronous communication (e.g. video conference or phone call) or at differing times, known as asynchronous communication (e.g. secure online messaging). This study evaluated a virtual care platform that was deployed in Ontario and was capable of hosting synchronous and asynchronous virtual healthcare visits. The virtual care platform hosted nearly 15,000 visits, with common reasons for a visit being the provision of medication prescriptions, discussion of test results, or following up on prior appointments. The vast majority of virtual visits (over 90%) were asynchronous (secure online messaging) rather than synchronous (phone or video call). Patients and providers reported preferring asynchronous visits due to convenience, as both parties could respond at times that worked well for them. Strikingly, 99% of patients indicated that they would use virtual visits again, demonstrating that the virtual visits offered a high-quality patient experience. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a drastic rise in virtual healthcare usage, and the findings of this study may inform how virtual healthcare can be optimally arranged – namely, the capacity for asynchronous communication is a feature important for both patients and clinicians.

Summary by: Jacob Ferguson