Digital health could improve care for Canadian seniors

By Shelagh Maloney

In February 2018, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) released a report that shows the care Canadian seniors receive falls short of the international average.

The report, How Canada Compares: Results From The Commonwealth Fund 2017 International Health Policy Survey of Seniors, reveals that Canada continues to be below the global average for access to primary care and specialists. It also shows that care coordination among physicians (i.e., sharing of health information between care settings), has improved, but Canada still remains below the international average in that area as well.

“We learn so much from examining how Canadian seniors interact with their health system and by comparing their experiences with those of seniors from other comparable countries,” said Tracy Johnson, CIHI’s Director, System Analysis, Emerging Issues. “We do see some encouraging signs, particularly in the realm of end-of-life planning and home care, where Canadian seniors largely report that their needs are being met.”

Michael Green, President and CEO of Canada Health Infoway (Infoway), also sees encouraging signs for seniors, who are benefitting from digital health.

“Infoway’s original focus on electronic health records created the foundation that is enabling digital health innovations such as patient portals, virtual visits and telehomecare, that are improving coordination of care and access to care for seniors,”  he said.

Infoway recently released its 2018-2019 Summary Corporate Plan, Driving Access to Care, which outlines its strategic goals and performance expectations for the upcoming fiscal year.

The organization will continue to focus on digital health advances to help keep seniors at home longer, improve outcomes and increase access to care. Initiatives already underway demonstrate that these innovations could improve care for Canadian seniors.

Nancy Huyck of Dorchester, Ontario, lives with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. She is enrolled in an Infoway initiative that works with paramedic services to place digital health tools in the homes of patients, enabling them to measure their vitals including blood pressure, weight and oxygen levels. Paramedics monitor the information and intervene when they note a change in an individual’s health status. The goal is to keep patients like Nancy as well as possible so they can remain in their homes, and out of the hospital. It is also an innovative way to provide real value to caregivers and loved ones.

When Nancy enrolled in the program, a paramedic came to her home to teach her how to use the tools, and ever since, she has been measuring and transmitting her blood pressure, weight and oxygen levels every day. Readings that require follow-up are flagged, and a secure portal provides Nancy’s family and the rest of her care team with up-to-date results.

One day, Nancy received a call from the paramedic when her blood pressure was higher than usual. He came to her home, then worked with her doctor to resolve the issue.

“Avoiding a trip to the doctor was an obvious benefit,” said Nancy. “But getting to know my own results has taught me to make changes early on in order to avoid complications down the road, and that has been an added bonus.”

Michael Green believes digital tools ranging from e-consultations to in-home monitoring to patient portals have the potential to greatly improve the care seniors receive in Canada.

“CIHI’s report reinforces the need to accelerate digital health advancement and improve access to care for seniors, and all Canadians,” Green says. “The research that CIHI makes available is an important tool in supporting Infoway’s ability to develop and execute a strategy that will realize healthier Canadians through innovative digital health solutions.”

Shelagh Maloney is Vice President, Communications at Canada Health Infoway.