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Learning from Patients’ Experiences with Synchronous Virtual Primary Care Encounters During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Researcher bios and how their research backgrounds relate to this study

Dr. Rachelle Ashcroft is an Assistant Professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. She brings expertise in social work practice in healthcare and health policy. She is the Vice-President of Social and Professional Advocacy (2019-2021) at the Ontario Association of Social Workers, a member on the Social Policy and Advocacy Committee at the Canadian Association for Social Work Education since 2014, and is a co-investigator with Transdisciplinary Understanding and Training on Research - Primary Health Care, a national research program to improve the evidence-base for primary health care.

Dr. Simone Dahrouge is a Scientist at the C.T. Lamont Primary Health Care Research Centre. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa and Deputy Chair for the Department of Family Medicine and has a cross-appointment with the School of Epidemiology, Public Health and Preventive Medicine. She is also an Adjunct Scientist with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. Her research focuses on the organization of primary care health services research and its effect on quality and equity of care.

Purpose of this research project

The COVID-19 pandemic has led primary care providers to shift quickly from face-to-face services to telephone and video appointments (virtual care). Much is known about the experiences of primary care providers regarding virtual care, but little is known about the experiences of patients, including those who identify as part of the LGBT2SQ community. Given the sudden widespread adoption and anticipated growth of virtual care, there is a need to better understand patient expectations and experiences. These expectations and experiences from patients accessing primary care during COVID-19 offers important insights on how virtual care can increase the capacity of our healthcare system while also continuing to put patient needs at the centre. Driven by a patient advisory committee, this research study examines patient perspectives through a provincial-wide survey and interviews on the following five dimensions: (1) patient-provider exchange, (2) whole person care, (3) privacy and confidentiality, (4) perceived quality of care, and (5) access. We will recruit patients who have had at least one telephone or video appointment with a primary care provider on a range of health concerns, including new issues and chronic conditions. Survey findings will inform the interview questions and both survey and interview findings will be analyzed separately. Please note that this form will only focus on the survey part of the study. Findings from this study will help develop patient-centred recommendations on how Ontario can address challenges in accessing high quality primary care. As the use of telephone and video appointments become more prominent after the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to ensure that patients have a strong voice regarding how to better integrate virtual care in the future.

How this research will help LGBT2SQ people and communities

This research will help inform the future of virtual care in Ontario after the pandemic has subsided. Given that LGBT2SQ people and communities are important users of the healthcare system, it is crucial for our study to include their voices, experiences, and perspectives. This will help inform healthcare in Ontario that will be more equitable and accessible for communities that have historically and traditionally been marginalized and oppressed. Our study also specifically asks for participant’s gender identity and sexual orientation as we want to ensure that our sample is representative of the diverse population in Ontario. Ultimately, we aim to provide meaningful and impactful recommendations that are based on patient experiences and will increase the quality of care. Furthermore, if we have a large enough sample of LGBT2SQ individuals, we can generate a separate report that will specifically report on findings from LGBT2SQ participants. If this is something that would be of value, please let us know.


Anyone over the age of 18 who lives in Ontario and have had telephone or video appointments with a primary care provider.


Survey participants will be eligible to enter into a draw for one of five $100 gift cards of their choice.

Mitigation measures

Potential distress to participants is low due to survey participants being anonymous and the researchers not linking specific individuals with their responses. Participation in the survey is voluntary and participants can withdraw at any point during the survey by closing their browser window. Survey questions will inquire about the participant’s opinions on their virtual care experience rather than specific details about their personal health concerns. Furthermore, participants can choose not to answer a question if they feel uncomfortable with it.

Promoting the Study

We are promoting the study by contacting patient advocacy groups, our Patient Advisory Committee, and personal networks. This includes direct emails to multiple organizations and individual patients who have been involved with the interview stage of our study. We are also supported by our co-investigators who work at the Association of Family Health Teams of Ontario and the Alliance for Healthier Communities. Both organizations are membership-based, and their members consist of team-based clinics across the province, including Family Health Teams, Nurse Practitioner-led Clinics, and Community Health Centres. They will send an email to their members with the hopes that they will promote the study among their patients. We will also engage in social media promotion by encouraging our knowledge users and networks to advertise the study on various platforms including Facebook and Twitter.

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