UVIC Graduate Certificate in Health Terminology Studies

Empowering or isolating? Addressing common myths about digital health

For Nancy, trips to the hospital or walk-in-clinic were a regular part of life, and because of her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), she would wind up in one or the other at least once a month. A telehomecare program changed that, enabling Nancy to track her vitals and, with the help of her health care provider who monitored her remotely, take action to address changes in her condition before they escalated into the need for a trip to the hospital or clinic. For Canadians like Nancy, digital health has meant a better quality of life.

For others, however, digital health raises the spectre of governments and insurance companies looking at their health records or confusion about why a patient would ever want to access anything so complicated as a lab result, which surely only doctors can understand. And telehomecare programs that have reduced hospital visits for patients like Nancy? They have some Canadians worrying about a cold and impersonal future in which patients no longer see health care providers in face-to-face visits.

As with any significant change, the transformation taking place as a result of digital health has raised some concerns — some based in fact, and some not — about what digital health means for Canadians, clinicians and the health system. Is digital health only for the young and tech savvy? Will doctors’ offices be inundated with phone calls from confused or anxious patients who have online access to their lab results? Will digital health marginalize populations who don’t have online access?

Lack of understanding is a barrier to adoption, which is why, to dispel these and other myths, Infoway launched a digital health myth busting campaign. We identified several misconceptions we’ve encountered over the years through our outreach efforts and used research conducted by Infoway with researchers from across Canada, as well as international studies, to address the misconceptions with facts. In total, Infoway addressed 17 myths on a wide range of topics, such as virtual visits, lab results, privacy, e-booking and patient portals.

One myth we explored was the value of patients being able to access their lab results online, a digital health service some Canadians believe is pointless because they think the results will be too complicated for patients to understand. Infoway drew on research to set the record straight. In fact, 76 per cent of patients who first saw their lab results online were confident they understood the results. And 93 per cent of patients who accessed their lab results online said they had more informed discussions with their doctor. Additionally, patients with one or more chronic conditions were less likely to report being anxious.

Clinicians also had reservations related to patient access to lab results, fearing it would mean an increase in calls from worried or anxious patients. In fact, our research found patients who have access to their lab results online are less likely to call their physicians while waiting for results. They’re also less likely to have an unwarranted in-person visit related to their results.

Another myth examined the concern that digital health is only for the young and tech savvy. In fact, Canadians, including seniors, are very connected, and digital health offers important opportunities for advancing care for seniors like Nancy through programs such as telehomecare. In a study in which the average age of respondents was 75 to 84 years, 98.3 per cent of telehomecare patients were satisfied with the program. It’s easy to understand why. Studies confirm patients with chronic conditions such as COPD or congestive heart failure who are enrolled in telehomecare programs have 35 to 63 per cent fewer trips to the emergency room and 44 to 85 per cent fewer hospitalizations.

The myth-busting campaign provided an opportunity for Canadians and clinicians to share their experiences with digital health, with their stories further demonstrating that digital health solutions are being used in Canada and people are benefiting as a result. Some Canadians, initially skeptical about the value of digital health solutions such as online access to their lab results, even changed their minds after hearing from others whose family members were better able to manage their condition thanks to having access to their results. To learn more about the value of digital health and to view all 17 myths, visit www.infoway-inforoute.ca/myths.

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