As the world develops farther into what is often referred to the "tech age," the medical industry it doing its part to keep up. The desire for convenience - both of time and access - has led to an increased demand for tech-based medical solutions. Telemedicine - remote diagnosis and/or treatment via technology - is at the centre of this development.

Current Status

Ontario has been exploring telemedicine for the past two decades, first by introducing telehealth, and more recently adding eVisits throughout remote locations in the province. Telehealth offers patients access to a nurse who can provide information and refer appropriate cases for further medical intervention, which usually means a trip to the ER. The newer eVisits service takes things a step further by providing Ontarians with access to a doctor or nurse practitioner. To access the eVisits service patients must visit a centre that provides a device for patients to use to teleconference with a doctor.

See your healthcare provider via secure video from your health centre

Doctor in your pocket

While both telehealth and eVisits have been well received, there are major gaps between what telehealth is can presently provide and what patients are demanding. It's here where Canadian health tech startups have started to carve their own lane. Apps like Akira and Maple are providing teleconference and chat consultations with Canadian doctors on demand. Such apps have paved the way for the concept of having a "doctor in your pocket." Thousands of patients are accessing doctors from the comfort of  their home or office by paying for a single consult or subscribing to a monthly service.

The down side: unfortunately, at the moment, neither of these services is covered under OHIP, but they are covered in other provinces.

While this level of unfettered access to doctors via mobile device is new to Canadians, other countries have adopted telemedicine as the only viable option for accessing health care services. NGOs have been helping citizens in developing nations access telemedicine for years. Patients can upload photos, chat, and teleconference medical professionals to get a diagnosis and start treatment, a concept that is revolutionary in developing and underdeveloped parts of the world.

Machine Learning in Telemedicine

The final frontier in telemedicine is the use of artificial intelligence to assist doctors and patients with diagnosis and treatment. There is already some level of machine learning in telemedicine in the form of triage chatbots that can coordinate patient intake and automatically schedule follow-up prompts, but future applications are on their way. As we collect more data through wearables and "doctor in your pocket" apps, AI will play a key role in parsing this data, allowing apps and professionals to better diagnose patients and help with treatment compliance.

Will your doctor be replaced by a robot?