Technology abounds – time to embrace it

In advanced operating room with lots of equipment, patient and working surgical specialists

Hardly a day goes by that we don`t hear about some type of new technology. Newer and smarter smartphones, wearable glasses that serve as a computer, adjusting the temperature in your home while at work – the possibilities are endless.

As a consumer who enjoys the convenience of newer and better technology, I have also come to realize and accept that I am a bit of a stick in the mud, technologically speaking. While the ‘techies’ count down the minutes to the release of a new operating system (OS) on their mobile device, I am the one who doesn`t download the new OS until it`s absolutely necessary. I am a creature of habit. I have everything organized to my liking and don`t want to get used to a new operating system. I like the old one just fine. It doesn`t matter that the new system will improve the performance of my device, or simplify things even further, making my chaotic life a little easier – I still resist the change.

So it comes as no surprise to me that the biggest challenge of digitalizing our health care system is adoption – getting clinicians to transform their practices into digital ones. I can`t say I blame them. Technology can be daunting. Imagine a family doctor who has run their own practice for 30 years. It`s like a well-oiled machine. Enter electronic records – which will completely change their practice. Being three years away from retirement, they may think, what’s the point?

The transition of Canada’s health care system to a digital one has been long, going back more than a decade. Several scandals have plagued provincial and federal governments assigned to oversee this transition and many Canadians are left wondering what the hold-up is.

According to Canada Health Infoway, only 7600 clinicians used EHRs across Canada in 2006. By 2012 that number had risen to 45,000 users. An increase of more than 500 per cent – so progress is being made. Yet, Canada lags behind all G7 nations in the adoption of EHRs. Many countries have universal EHR adoption – The Netherlands and Australia have since 2007.

In the 2013 National Physician Survey 61.8 per cent of physicians reported using electronic records. Of those who do use electronic records, 56.2 per cent reported the quality of patient care better or much better and 30 per cent reported no change. Forty-two per cent reported productivity has (greatly) increased since implementation of electronic records and 31 per cent reported it as the same. A surprising 13.3 per cent claim productivity has actually decreased.

From this survey it seems the general consensus among physicians is that adopting electronic records can enhance patient care but not always. And for some, it has actually decreased productivity. No wonder adoption of electronic records has been a challenge.

Part of the problem is that while in theory, electronic records will save money, improve efficiency and enhance patient care, the reality is that in Canada we aren’t there yet. A crucial component of the impact electronic records can have is dependent on health information exchange – or the ability to exchange health information electronically between hospitals and health care facilities.  What is the point of having an electronic record if only your primary care doctor can access it? If these records aren’t accessible to a patient’s whole care team, we aren’t reaping all the benefits this new technology has to offer.

When a patient shows up unconscious at an ER and a simple scan of their health card can bring up their health history and alert caregivers to allergies etc., then we will really begin to see exactly what these records have to offer.  Until we have a system where these records can be shared across the care continuum, we can only hypothesize as to their potential.

The slow progress that has been made, the wasted taxpayer dollars and the many blunders along our digitalization journey could be partly responsible for the hesitation of some physicians to adopt electronic records. Government needs to provide more incentive for physicians to adopt them – and have a plan in place to ensure that every Canadian patient will reap the benefits, soon.

As we turn our focus to technology and innovation in this issue, I am reminded that technology isn’t just about making our life convenient, it can often mean the difference between life and death. This month’s cover story examines the safety of robotic assisted surgery and addresses some of the negative press in the US.

Another company, Ekso Bionics has developed a wearable robot that enables individuals with lower extremity paralysis or weakness to stand up and walk (page 10). Another company has developed an early warning system that digitally evaluates seven vital signs to help clinicians identify children who are clinically deteriorating to help prevent unnecessary code blues (28).

Technology is moving forward at a rapid pace, and Hospital News wants to keep you informed on recent updates and advancements so starting in March we will be including a Healthcare Technology section in every issue.

For those of us resistant to the constant change technology brings, it’s time to embrace it. Especially in healthcare where it can save lives.