Virtual healthcare gets another option in some parts of Canada courtesy of the Telus Health MyCare app, which gives patients access to doctors without leaving home.
MyCare is really a rebranded version of what used to be called Babylon by Telus Health until the telecom giant acquired Babylon and repackaged it into this version. It essentially maintains the same virtual care service, though tries to expand upon it by addressing various ailments or health concerns patients may have.
Telus estimates that up to 4.6 million Canadians don’t have a family doctor, so this would also be trying to cut into that number somewhat. Telus says up to 60% of those using the app don’t have a family doctor, and 77% of them are between the ages of 20-49.
You can download it for free on iOS or Android, which can connect you with a doctor, counselor or dietitian. Telus currently limits access to select provinces: B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec. That’s for doctors, whereas counselors and dietitians aren’t available in Quebec.
You can book a consultation with a practitioner and speak with them over the phone or video. Doctors are able to prescribe medication, send referrals for diagnostic tests or specialist appointments and address a number of different ailments. Those looking for help with mental health can also speak with a counselor.
MyCare is different from Akira, another Telus Health-branded app. It, too, provides on-demand access to physicians and nurse practitioners through text, phone and video, except it’s only available to students and those with employee health benefits. MyCare has no such restriction, letting anyone with provincial health coverage get consultations free of charge. Those without any coverage can still access the same features for a fee.
An AI-powered Symptom Checker is available 24/7 to run through questions about particular symptoms, though it’s communicating with a chatbot rather than an actual person. Healthcheck is a 15-minute questionnaire that offers insights into health or lifestyle changes at the end.
Wait times are a common complaint throughout Canada’s healthcare system, even if they have a family doctor. MyCare tries to connect a patient with a doctor on either the same day or 24 hours later. It doesn’t matter whether or not you already have a family doctor, given that the app provides access to doctors on evenings and weekends.
When I asked Dr. Keir Peterson, the Chief Medical Officer at Telus Health MyCare, said appointments can go as late as 10PM. The physicians involved are working with MyCare on a part-time basis with a focus on the communities they live in. Doctors who have “an extra few hours” on an evening or weekend can reach a broader range of patients. Some may also be doctors nearing retirement and no longer run a practice, yet still want to work with patients.
Women’s health, mental health and dermatology are among the top reasons patients use the app, he says. Though not limited to skin-related concerns, patients can upload images in advance of an appointment to give a doctor something to look at.
In the event of a necessary follow-up, Peterson says there are ways to customize that experience. For patients with family doctors, the MyCare physician can reconnect them back to their primary care provider for next steps. For those without a family doctor, MyCare would reconnect them with a doctor within the app, often the same one who first spoke with them. That includes follow ups from diagnostic tests or prescriptions, setting up a continuity of care rather than a one-off consultation.
Telus says 15% of people using MyCare inquire about mental health services within the app. Registered counselors can not only answer questions, but also offer help and guidance to help struggling patients. Counselors conduct appointments much like doctors do, so patients can speak with a professional over video for hour-long sessions.
The same is true of sexual health concerns, where discretion is not only important, but also necessary to protect privacy. Patients can speak with doctors who are knowledgeable about related issues and gain access to potential testing at physical clinics in their communities.
Don’t expect the app to cover everything because certain things aren’t available. It can’t help with vaccinations, blood tests, smear tests, infant check-ups, and some physical examinations. Naturally, it’s also not an option for emergencies, where calling 911 would make more sense.
Telus says it stores all data from the app on servers based in Canada. A closer look at the agreement terms upon signup indicate that data is shared with partnering services. Some sections refer to it as “de-identified” so that it’s no longer capable of knowing who you are.
There is an option to sync data from the Apple Health app via HealthKit on an iPhone or iPad. It’s not required, but doing so lets you theoretically gain greater insight into your overall health based on how active you are. I’ve yet to see this in action, so can’t be sure of how well it works.
If you’re concerned about data privacy, I would recommend thoroughly reading through the agreement terms to better understand how MyCare handles your data. It is written in more common language, rather than legalese, and if you have questions, you can reach out to Telus Health to ask what you want to know.