Canadians are proud of our health system. It has stood for equality and compassion for more than 50 years. It’s also tied to our identity, and it’s one of the first things we mention when comparing Canada to other countries.
While we consider our health system among the best in the world, in the digital age, that’s no longer the case.
Canada’s health system has fallen behind peer countries in performance rankings, including indicators that measure access to care. In a Commonwealth Fund survey of 11 countries, Canada ranked ninth or lower in wait times in emergency departments, ability to get same-day appointments with a physician and the ability of patients to access their health information.
What Canadians Want
This inability of patients to access their health information is at odds with what Canadians want. A recent survey conducted by Canada Health Infoway found that only 22% of Canadians have access to their health information online and 73% of those who don’t have this access, want it.
That’s not surprising. Like people in the United States and around the world, Canadians have been shopping, banking and booking travel online for years, and we increasingly use digital tools and apps for a host of other purposes. But while many industries have undergone radical changes powered by technology to make things easier and more convenient for customers and clients, these changes have been slow to make their way into Canada’s health system.
We know that when technology solutions enter our health system and adoption grows, the benefits can be enormous. It’s estimated that more than $26 billion in benefits (cost savings and efficiencies) have accrued to Canadians and the health system since 2007 as a result of investments in digital health initiatives such as electronic health records and telehealth.
This is the tip of the iceberg. Most of these benefits can be attributed to health system utilization of these tools and improvements in productivity for clinicians. We have the opportunity to unlock significant value by improving access to health information and digitally enabled services for patients and their families.
Improved Health Outcomes
Better access to care isn’t just about making healthcare easier and more convenient, or about saving money for patients and Canada’s health system. It’s also about improving health outcomes.
We’ve learned that better access to health information and services gives patients greater confidence to manage their health, especially for those who have chronic conditions. It can also improve patients’ communication with their care team and inform discussions with their doctors. And it can increase the likelihood of renewing prescriptions on time, which helps improve the accuracy of health information.
We’re seeing some great examples of what we can do to improve access to care for Canadians:
- One organization that provides professional counselling to young people in Canada now offers youth support for mental health and other issues via their preferred method of communication – text messaging. There have been more than 85,000 texting conversations and nearly 900 active rescues, saving an estimated two lives per day.
- And members of more than 200 First Nations communities, many in northern and remote settings, are being provided a community health record and personal health record – greatly improving care for these citizens.
So how do we spark a digital health revolution that will give Canadians the health system they want, and result in cost savings and improved health outcomes?
Well, it starts with all of us – everyone who is committed to uniting toward the common goal of improving access to personal health information and digitally enabled health services. It’s time to work together to reclaim our pride in Canada’s health system and our place as a global leader in healthcare.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.
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