Digital health for consumers on the horizon

HealthAchieve is a wonderful opportunity for health care and business leaders to come together to Learn, Share and Evolve. What I find particularly exciting about HealthAchieve is the richness of innovative ideas that emerge when like-minded experts come together, each with their own unique sets of talents, stimulating ideas, debates and new directions. For me, it truly is about achieving better health outcomes together, which is at the heart of digital health innovation in Canada.

As the digital health community, knows, likely better than anyone, there are many ways Canada’s health care system has been transformed through the use of digital health, enabling clinicians, administrators and patients to achieve better health by working together.

The core systems now in place to digitally and securely collect, store and share the health information of Canadians are in use by more than 90,000 clinicians. That’s a 46 per cent increase when compared to 2006, and it sets the stage for inviting patients to also benefit from the progress that has been made. Progress has also been made in providing consumers with secure digital access to their health information and I believe that building on this is the next step, the next opportunity in the evolution of digital health. And I believe it’s not only long overdue, it would be irresponsible to overlook the potential it has to transform care for patients across Canada.

Patients like Greg Price from Alberta. Greg was an athlete, an engineer and a pilot, much loved by family and friends. He died unexpectedly at the age of 31, shortly after receiving a diagnosis of testicular cancer. Between the onset of symptoms and his death, there were many breakdowns in Greg’s care, including disconnects in communication and delays in potentially life-saving care, according to the Health Quality Council of Alberta, who documented Greg’s experience in its study on continuity of patient care.

Sadly, Greg’s experience is far from unique. To illustrate, in a 2011 survey of Canadian adults with health problems, 40 per cent reported gaps in the coordination of their care in the past two years. Of those who had surgery over this period, half indicated that there had been breakdowns in their post-discharge care.

We can and must do better – that is what patients and families expect and deserve. We have the technology, we have the talent, and we already have pockets of innovation that are providing patients with an experience that is vastly different from Greg Price’s.

For instance, Judith Morley is a cancer survivor from Thornhill, Ontario. Access to an online patient portal helped her and her family manage her care and treatment.

According to Judith, digital health greatly improved her care experience and she believes Canadians should have ready and secure access to their digital health records whether they’re waiting to learn how their cancer treatment is progressing or booking a child’s medical appointment.

According to a Harris/Decima survey, Canadians agree with her. Not only does the survey reveal that 96 per cent of Canadians think it’s important that the health care system make use of digital health tools and capabilities, the vast majority want access to their own health records and other consumer health services.

That should surprise no one, given the reputation of Canadians for being heavy users of the internet. Statistics Canada reports that 83 per cent of Canadian households have access to the Internet at home and according to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, we make use of that access by visiting more than 3,700 web page each month.

Where they are available, we are already seeing Canadians embracing access to digital health tools and capabilities with open arms, and the health care system is already strengthened by it.

But, much work remains. Only six per cent to 10 per cent of Canadians currently have the ability to book appointments and view lab results online. The potential to benefit Canadians, directly enhancing the patient experience by improving care and reducing the amount of time required to renew prescriptions, book appointments and manage illness has never been greater than it is now.

A recent Ipsos Reid survey predicts adoption of digital health tools by Canadians will be high.

If available, more than 80 per cent of Canadians would take advantage of digital health solutions by:

  • Viewing their own information (laboratory tests, immunization records, prescriptions and medication history).
  • Accessing services (make appointments, requests for prescription renewal, more information on their care)

There are patients whose experiences are similar to Greg’s, and there are patients whose experiences are more like Judith’s. Untold Canadians find themselves somewhere in the middle and leading Canadian health care organizations have come together with universal support for broader and more equitable consumer access to digital health tools.

Together, they have established Digital Health Week (November 16 – 22, 2015) with the goal of increasing support for digital health to improve delivery of care across the country.

For many of you, every week is digital health week, and I look forward to working with you on this next stage in Canada’s digital health journey.

For more stories about how digital health is impacting Canadians, visit www. betterhealthtogether.ca.

Digital health for consumers: By the numbers

  • 89 per cent of Canadians want access to digital health tools and capabilities
  • Canadians could gain 70 million hours per year using digital health solutions to help manage their care
  • 76 per cent of Canadians say digital health can make accessing health care easier and more convenient
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