COACH CEO Talks about Healthcare Virtualization with PwC’s Will Falk

Don Newsham sat down with Will Falk, Managing Partner of PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Healthcare portfolio, to discuss PwC’s recently published report entitled “Making Care Mobile: Shifting perspectives on the virtualization of health care.“  The report (available at www.pwc.com/ca/virtualcare) explores Canadians’ attitudes towards pertinent issues in the healthcare industry, and provides analysis of what citizens expect decision makers to keep in mind when thinking of the future of healthcare in Canada.

Don Newsham (DN):  Great to speak to you on this topic Will. For those in our health informatics (HI) world who have yet to read the report, give us some background on the scope and objectives of the PwC research, in particular PwC’s approach to conducting the research?

Will Falk (WF): Thanks Don – great to speak with you too. In terms of understanding shifting perspectives in the healthcare industry, there’s plenty of research conducted globally and particularly in the US. The Canadian healthcare system is significantly different than others, so we wanted to look specifically at Canadians’ views on the virtualization of care.

Over a three-week period, we conducted an interactive survey that walked about 2,400 participants through scenario-based questions. Our goal was to gage what Canadians see as the future of healthcare delivery. We also looked at segments of the population including healthcare frequent fliers and participants with chronic conditions and caregivers.

DN:  Will, what motivated PwC to undertake this research of Canadians’ perspective on and expectations as to the future of healthcare delivery? Why now and what are the target audiences you are trying to engage and inform?

WF: Mobiles, smartphones and tablets are changing the way people interact everyday – whether it’s how they shop, how they bank or how they make appointments. This is improving the delivery of service and healthcare should be no different.

Our goal for Making Care Mobile was to provide data to industry leaders and key decision makers in the field on mHealth and vHealth and how they should build the virtual healthcare system.

DN: Beyond the obvious feedback from Canadians, i.e., they want their care faster, more accessible, of higher quality etc., what surprised you most about the research findings?

WF: Well Don, the fact that 79% of Canadians want to use email with their providers and 83% want to fill a prescription electronically wasn’t really surprising. Canadians are banking over their mobile devices, so it’s obvious that they’d want to manage their health in the same way.

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What’s surprising is their eagerness and willingness to be diagnosed or treated virtually – with nearly 80% of Canadians saying they’re comfortable with virtual monitoring for chronic care conditions, and more than half saying they think virtual monitoring and virtual visits are good care delivery options. The other finding that surprised us was that Canadians ranked convenience higher than privacy when they were asked to consider trade-offs.

DN: From your fundamental findings, is it your opinion that Canadians are more or less in tune and receptive to eHealth? Do they have a good appreciation of the HI side of current and future modes of delivery of healthcare in Canada?

WF: eHealth, mHealth and telemedicine all are subcategories of virtual health delivery. Large sections of our healthcare system have already virtualized. We expect a quarter of all healthcare delivery to occur with the patient and provider in separate locations by the end of the decade. Canadians told us that they’re ready for this transformation. Overwhelmingly, they said they want better access to information, control and engagement in their care.

Canadians don’t want “eHealth” – they want healthcare delivered in a modern and efficient fashion. Just as it no longer makes sense to speak about ebanking or etravel or eretail, healthcare is being radically improved by digitization.

DN:  At a recent telehealth conference here in Toronto, you talked in particular about pace of virtualization of healthcare and how, with other shifts in healthcare delivery paradigm, we’ve “been here before.”  What do you mean by that, i.e., what’s the same about the virtualization shift as compared to past changes in the settings and delivery of care?

WF: What I meant by that is, just like the dramatic transformation we saw take place during the ’80s and ’90s – the movement to outpatient care delivery for follow-up and community-based chronic disease management – it’s happening again now with virtual health.

In the ’80s and ’90, we saw momentum build for major system modernization and restructuring of people, assets, technology and care processes.

The same way we challenged all of our assumptions and thinking around care then, we have to do that with virtual care now. We need to challenge the assumptions around implicit physicality. What this means is we have to start thinking about the reasons why patients and providers need to be in the same place at the same time for care, and if there are certain opportunities that don’t need this for care to be delivered.

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Canada Health Infoway has recognized this recently and is now providing funds to encourage a major move towards remote patient monitoring. In British Columbia, the physician fee schedule now pays for virtual office visits. The next few years will see this become the norm across the globe. This will result in an increase in service options and major improvements in access and efficiency.

DN: Last question Will. From your firm’s research, and given your experience and expertise are Canadians ready for this shift and associated pace of the virtualization of healthcare?  Are our HI professionals, our COACH members ready?  If not, where are our greatest exposures/weaknesses?

WF: To date, most Canadians at the patient and provider level haven’t been able to engage in mHealth or vHealth, but we know those who have had the opportunity think it’s a positive step forward.

The challenge is really about raising awareness and setting the framework and guidelines to help implement these solutions as a common practice in the field.  Industry needs to illustrate a sustainable model to prove whether these tools work, prove clinical outcomes, save money and deliver efficiencies.

Difficulty exists in a central approach. Just look at the iPad for example. Three years ago it didn’t exist, now doctors are using them to treat patients and patients are using them to supplement their care. All of us are challenged at the rapid pace of technology adoption, so we need to be agile to move quickly to be able to implement these solutions.

For readers who’re interested in learning more about our survey and the future of healthcare in Canada, visit www.pwc.com.ca/virtualcare

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