Go to content

Virtual and in-person visits by Ontario physicians in the COVID-19 era


Introduction — We examined the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic impact on weekly trends in the billing of virtual and in-person physician visits in Ontario, Canada.

Methods — In this retrospective cohort study, physician billing records from Ontario were aggregated on a weekly basis for in-person and virtual visits from 3 January 2016 to 27 March 2021. For each type of visit, a segmented negative binomial regression analysis was performed to estimate the weekly pre-pandemic trend in billing volume per thousand adults (3 January 2016 to 14 March 2020), the immediate change in mean volume at the start of the pandemic, and additional change in weekly volume in the pandemic era (15 March 2020 to 27 March 2021).

Results — Before the start of the pandemic, the weekly volume of virtual visits per thousand adults was low with a 0.5% increase per week (rate ratio [RR]: 1.0053, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.0050–1.0056). A dramatic 65% reduction in in-person visits (RR: 0.35, 95% CI: 0.32–0.39) occurred at the start of the pandemic while virtual visits grew by 21-fold (RR: 21.3, 95% CI: 19.6–23.0). In the pandemic era, in-person visits rose by 1.4% per week (RR: 1.014, 95% CI: 1.011–1.017) but no change was observed for virtual visits (p-value = 0.31). Overall, we noted a 57.6% increase in total weekly physician visits volume after the start of the pandemic.

Discussion — These results are meaningful for virtual care reimbursement models. Future study needs to assess the quality of care and whether the increase in virtual care volume is cost-effective to society.



Fu R, Sutradhar R, Li Q, Eskander A. J Telemed Telecare. 2022; Mar 16 [Epub ahead of print].

View Source

Research Programs

Associated Sites