News & Events

Guest Speaker Series: Leaders in Virtual Health Care

May 20, 2020
UBC MHLP Guest Speaker Heather Boersa

On Monday, May 11, the Regional Director of Virtual Health at Vancouver Coastal Health, Heather Boersma, spoke with UBC’s Master of Engineering Leadership and Master of Health Leadership & Policy students. She focused on the primary considerations that leaders in virtual health care must grapple with as they aim to improve current methods in virtual health initiatives and establish a successful and sustainable virtual health sector. 

Firstly, Boersma shared her insights into the ways that virtual health can continue to improve and adapt. She invited students to consider how virtual health can make stressful appointments more comfortable and accessible to patients, by removing travel and wait time. Remote health, in particular, is effective in providing medical updates for patients in a timely and efficient manner. Further, virtual health practitioners are currently striving to improve virtual engagement, so that patients and health professionals feel a comparable level of interaction online as they would in person. 

Virtual health is expanding and adapting quickly. As technologies and virtual practices improve, virtual health will become a larger sector within the health care industry. 

Other important considerations are sustainability, costs, and return on investment for the health care system of virtual health programs. An important question now, for example, is whether the significant improvements to virtual health initiatives made now during the COVID-19 crisis will be long-lasting if the majority of patients return to in-person doctor appointments once social distancing comes to an end. Pragmatically, health care leaders must also consider whether virtual health programs are worth investing in terms of how much costs are saved through virtual methods in comparison to in-person appointments. 

Virtual health is most successful when it aligns well with the organization: staff are comfortable using virtual methods, the technologies are used and useful, and patients feel a real benefit from virtual resources. 

Boersma also commented on future considerations that virtual health leaders are striving towards. These include a move to online prescriptions, improved and integrated video solutions, a higher deployment rate of technology in hospitals and clinics, and even the restructuring of healthcare services so that the utilization of medical equipment more seamlessly aligns with virtual health initiatives. MHLP & MEL students were encouraged to imagine what a “virtual hospital” might entail in the future. 

Boersma encouraged students to become champions in their field. Her definition of champion means leading projects with passion. In any field—and especially within the field of virtual health—passion is a key driver of success.

An important quality for students to focus on when planning their future careers is in how they intend to demonstrate leadership within their roles. Often, individuals do not spend the time need to explore what leadership means to them and how they might embody their ideal definition of positive leadership.

To MHLP students, Boersma recommended that they begin considering and practicing how they might best communicate their understanding of and experiences with the clinical process. While students graduate from the program with expertise in clinical practices, it can be difficult to share your knowledge efficiently. As an employer, Boersma emphasized the importance of communicating your experience effectively and concisely when applying to jobs. 

As a final note, Boersma noted how leaders must acquire a great level of flexibility; in the workplace, leaders are required to shift from project to project with ease. 

As COVID-19 has proven, situations can change dramatically very quickly. Leaders must learn how to quickly adapt to change and thrive within uncertain circumstances.