In November 2014, Canada Health Infoway launched Digital Health Week. The impetus to choose a week to celebrate the benefits of digital health services and tools for Canadians was, frankly, an attempt to get media coverage and to augment the Better Health Together public education campaign that Infoway had launched a few weeks prior. The objectives of Digital Health Week were threefold:
- To celebrate the difference that digital health was making in the lives of Canadians
- To bring awareness about these benefits to people who were not experiencing them firsthand
- To provide a forum for the digital health community to showcase their achievements
As expected, there were mixed reactions about this plan of action. The naysayers pointed to the plethora of awareness days/weeks/months that are currently being celebrated and argued that these declarations had lost their effectiveness. After all, they argued, if everyone is special, then no one is special.
On the other hand, those who supported the establishment of Digital Health Week pointed to initiatives like Movember, a very successful campaign that recognizes the month of November as prostate cancer awareness month, and Earth Hour, a worldwide movement encouraging individuals, communities and businesses to turn off non-essential electric lights for one hour to demonstrate their commitment to the planet, as examples of very successful initiatives that have created greater awareness of the cause and have led to changes of behaviour among many.
At the end of the day, the initiative proceeded, and principles were established to guide the direction and help ensure success. First among these principles was the imperative that Digital Health Week would be a coalition of many. The theme of the campaign, after all, was Better Health Together, so Digital Health Week had to reflect the quantity and diversity of organizations that were developing and adopting digital health and provide them with a voice at the table to showcase their progress.
Another principle established at the outset was to make Digital Health Week about celebration. There is no question that there is tremendous opportunity to improve and accelerate digital health in Canada. One has only to look at where Canada stands in terms of global rankings to understand that, compared to our peer countries, we are lagging in this space, especially as it relates to providing citizens with access to their personal health information and to the tools and services that they want. The intention was not to ignore these issues but to recognize that there are other forums that exist to address these shortcomings and it was decided that Digital Health Week would not be one of them.
Digital Health Week would be a time to celebrate the progress that we have made and to showcase the benefits that we have achieved. Success breeds success and demonstrating what has been accomplished would create an appetite to accelerate our efforts.
So, has the initiative been successful? Has Digital Health Week made a difference? 2018 marks the fifth anniversary of Digital Health Week and the event continues to gain momentum. There are more than 70 Participating Organizations that have lent their name to the cause and are actively participating in the week-long celebration, including national patient groups like Patients for Patient Safety, clinical groups like the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nursing Informatics Association as well as organizations like Arthritis Society, ITAC Health and Manitoba eHealth.
The #thinkdigitalhealth hashtag, created for online conversation generated more than 3,300 tweets that garnered more than 10.9 million impressions during last year’s Digital Health Week. There is also real evidence that Canadians are engaging in the conversation both during Digital Health Week and beyond. For example, one Facebook post expressed doubt about the benefits of being able to view lab results online — others quickly responded with their experiences and reassurances that the information was indeed useful, which helped convince the original poster that such information could, in fact, be valuable.
Digital Health Week’s flagship event is Infoway’s Partnership Conference, a two-day event that brings together the digital health community from across Canada, features a wide range of speakers sharing their knowledge and expertise and provides an excellent forum to discuss and celebrate digital health in Canada and globally.
Happy Digital Health Week! Join the celebration!