Digital health for consumers the next major step

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The benefits associated with the use of , such as improved patient outcomes, efficiencies and improved access to care, are becoming a core part of day-to-day hospital care.   Now is the time to focus on extending these efficiencies and benefits to patients, which is one of the biggest developments in the digital health revolution.  According to , President and CEO of Canada Health , providing Canadians with their health information and digital tools to help them be informed, engaged members of their own care team is transforming health care.

“Information is critical to quality care, whether patients are in hospital or managing their conditions themselves at home,” says Green.  “The vast majority of Canadians want secure access to online patient services, and never before has Canada been better positioned to do that.”

Access to an online patient portal helped cancer survivor Judith Morley and her family manage her care and treatment, and she thinks every Canadian should have access to digital health.

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“Digital health greatly improves the patient experience,” says Morley.  “Whether you’re waiting to learn how your cancer treatment is progressing or you’re booking your child’s medical appointment, who wouldn’t rather have the ability to do those things online, quickly and securely?”

Judith is in good company.  Patient portals are already providing Canadians with access to their health information such as initiatives at Toronto’s Holland Bloorview and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, and Nova Scotia’s patient portal project.

Green points to e-booking and viewing lab test results as examples of areas in which there should be immediate expanded access.  The vast majority of Canadians want to be able to do these things.  Between six per cent and ten per cent of Canadians are able to.

“Leveraging these untapped opportunities to support patient-centered care through consumer access to digital health tools and capabilities is the current focus in Canada’s digital health journey,” added Green.

He also points out that Canada, in particular, is a country where the expansion of consumer-oriented digital health makes a great deal of sense.

“We are among the highest users of the internet in the world,” says Green. “Canadians go online to shop, to read or watch the news, to bank, and to communicate with friends. And research is showing that they know digital health makes health care easier and more convenient, and they want access for themselves.”

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The economic case for digital health is also clear, particularly when one considers the value that electronic health care has already brought about. Since 2007, digital solutions such as telehealth, drug and diagnostic imaging systems and physician electronic medical records have resulted in an estimated $13 billion in access, quality and productivity benefits for Canadians.

The Medical Post  recently convened an expert panel to discuss the state of electronic technology in health care. The comparison was made between health care today and the banking industry 15 years ago. Back then, many banking executives were concentrating their efforts on providing services through ATMs, assuming that this was what customers really wanted. It turned out, of course, that what customers also wanted was the freedom and flexibility to take control of all their own banking themselves, online. That consumer desire for control and involvement is exactly what Michael Green says health care planners should be thinking about.

“Together with our partners, Infoway has spent the last 14 years working to improve the health of Canadians by accelerating the development, adoption and effective use of digital health solutions,” he says.  “As a country, we have made extraordinary progress and we find ourselves in the enviable position of being able to enhance the patient experience by improving outcomes and reducing the amount of time required to renew prescriptions, book appointments or manage illnesses.”

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Access to the portal provided Judith and her family with online access to her medical information. Despite the stress and confusion of the multiple tests, appointments and treatments that her cancer required, they were able to use the portal to review her information and progress securely from home.  It also helped keep them in contact with members of her care team who provided clarification or answered questions as needed.

“In hindsight, digital health gave my family hope at a time when I was overcome with anger and grief, and was unable to grasp what was happening to me, let alone focus on the value of digital health,” says Morley. “Today, I am cancer-free. While I haven’t looked back since conquering my battle with cancer, I am grateful that the experience led me to digital health.