The Benefits of and Barriers to Digitally-Enabled Patient-Centred Care

Next week is Digital Health Week in Canada (November 12-18) and #hcldr is going to be joining in the activities by having a discussion about #DigitalHealth on Tuesday November 13th at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here).

We have special guest hosts from Canada Health Infoway, who have written the following blog to help us get ready for the weekly chat.


Blog post by Chad Leaver @Infoway

I’ve been leading a research program on Canada’s progress in digital health since 2011. But it wasn’t until December 2014 that I had an experience that helped me understand how a digitally-enabled health care system truly puts the patient first.

On my final evening while on a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, an eye infection flared up and I knew it was going to negatively impact my long journey home to Canada. I knew a national telephone health line was available in Denmark. So, at 2 a. m., I went to the front desk at my hotel and the clerk called the health line for me. Every province in Canada has a health triage line too. I spoke to a nurse and explained my symptoms, quite sure that all I was experiencing was an episode of pink eye — a painful and acute one at that.

The nurse knew a prescription was necessary and promptly set me up with a visitor health card number, and transferred me to an on-call physician. Access to a physician is not possible via provincial telehealth triage lines in Canada. After a few minutes I spoke to a physician who had reviewed the nurse’s triage notes, and after a few questions I was prescribed a course of treatment. I was asked if I could walk to the nearest 24-hour pharmacy. I then walked to the pharmacy (yes after 3 a.m.) and spoke to the pharmacist and paid for the prescribed eye drops (less than $25 CAD). Now that’s patient-centred care!

I was amazed that it took less than four hours from the time I went to the front desk to be assessed by a nurse, speak to a doctor, visit the pharmacy — and be back in my room letting the drops do their work! I know in Canada that I would both back then and today have to wait a until the next day (if not longer) to visit my regular doctor to get the care and treatment I needed — at significant cost to the health system (especially if I went to a hospital Emergency Room) and to my wellbeing.

This experience made me think. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the provincial telehealth nursing triage services available across Canada were also able to connect Canadians to a prescribing clinician through a face-to-face virtual visit — should their presenting condition be clear and straight forward. Think of the value to new moms and dads, Canadians with mobility issues, seniors, caregivers and busy professionals. If Denmark can do it, can Canada, do it? Big question.

In my experience I’ve learned that good and timely evidence is needed to inform and support transformative change to health system access, policy and clinical practice in Canada. So, in collaboration with the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC), Canada Health Infoway recently completed a comprehensive study to estimate the evidence-based value of citizen access to their health information and a set of digital health e-services (April, 2018). The study found:

  • Canadians collectively reap an annual value of $119 to $150 million from their use of virtual care and e-services by avoiding time off work, travel times and other benefits.
  • Health systems benefit $106 to $134 million in value by helping Canadian avoid unnecessary in-person appointments, trips to the ER and medical errors.

As the first study of it’s kind, the report also shines a light on the ‘art-of-the-possible’ demonstrating how much more both Canadians and the health system would benefit with increased adoption.

Infoway’s 2018 Connecting Patient’s for Better Health report provides latest national availability, use and citizen interest in accessing their health information online as well as digitally-enabled health services. The report shows that Canadians increasingly want access to digital health services, but there is a significant gap between this desire and their ability to access various services online.

I’m hopeful that Canada’s digital health journey will continue to advance and that health systems, the innovation and technology sector, and clinician groups will align to the opportunities and value that virtual care and e-services can have on realizing an accessible, accountable and sustainable patient-centred health system.

I hope you can join me for a tweet chat on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here), to discuss the benefits of and barriers to digitally-enabled patient-centred care.

  • T1 What’s your biggest frustration with access to healthcare or managing your own health (or caring for others) that you think digital health could help you with? #HCLDR
  • T2 What digital conveniences do you currently take advantage of in other aspects of your life that you think could also have a positive impact if adopted to healthcare? #HCLDR
  • T3 What are the main barriers to providing patients with access to personal health information and other e-services? Is it technology? Willingness? Lack of resources? #HCLDR
  • T4 What can healthcare leaders do to enable faster adoption of digital health? What do we need to start doing/stop doing? #HCLDR

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