Digital technology has had a profound impact on most aspects of our daily lives: from the way we shop, to how we book travel, communicate with friends and family, manage our finances or consume media such as music, books and television. Innovative technology trends are now beginning to impact the healthcare sector, offering potentials to improve the overall system and promote better healthcare outcomes for many Canadians.
The Ontario government has made significant investments in healthcare technology, by developing the eHealth Ontario platform to enable advances in digital health records, funding the MaRS Innovation Centre to help health start-ups grow and make a difference, as well as appointing a new Chief Health Innovation Strategist to invest in priority areas of the Patients First: Action Plan for Health Care. This new action plan aims to provide faster access to the right care, better home and community care, and more information to stay healthy.
The following briefly outlines just some of the many influential digital innovations impacting the healthcare and homecare sector:
- Researching Health Conditions on the Internet – On any given day more people ask health related questions on Google than ask their doctors! 72% of Internet users looked for health information online in the past year. About half of these medical related searches are by people looking for medical information for themselves and the other half, information about a loved one. The Internet has given patients far better access to medical information, helping to empower patients to become better educated and better able to advocate for themselves and for their loved ones.
- Telehealth – Many Canadians already access provincial Telehealth websites or telephone numbers where you can reach a nurse at anytime, such as Ontario Telehealth at 866-797-0000. Telehealth also includes many technology advances in Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM), which uses medical sensors to monitor patient’s health vitals (e.g. blood pressure, glucose, blood oxygen, heart rate, etc.) and communicate this data over the Internet, allowing doctors, nurses and other health professionals to monitor this data remotely and be alerted to any health issues quickly. Telehealth can also help patients go home earlier from hospital, reduce hospital readmissions, as well as empower many patients to live more independent lives within the community.
- Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) – You have probably noticed that your local family doctor now keeps track of your patient chart on a computer or tablet, rather than on paper. Moving to a paperless or digital filing system will help patients and physicians collect, store and share patient records more readily.
- Mobile Phone “Apps” – Over 2/3 of Canadians now own smartphones. Smart phones already offer many caregivers an opportunity to quickly update, email or text family, friends and care teams about the health of a loved one. Canadians are now actively using these smart phones to better manage their own health and wellness. There are over 100,000 mobile health (mHealth) related apps in the Apple App store online. Many of these apps offer powerful hand-held health supports for tracking your physical activity like Fitbit, to blood pressure and glucose monitors from companies such as iHealth Labs.
- Online Marketplaces to Find Homecare – Electronic marketplaces have proven to be an efficient way of matching consumers and providers, such as eBay, AirBnB or Uber. New healthcare marketplaces, such as eAdvocate.com, now allow families to find, screen, hire and coordinate homecare directly. Online caring marketplaces are making home healthcare more accessible, self-directed and affordable.
- Electronic Healthcare Records (EHRs) & Personal Health Records (PHRs) – Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are created during a hospital or ambulatory visit. EHRs are a digital health record that contains clinical documents, lab results, and diagnostics imaging (such as XRays), as well as other medical information about a patient. Electronic Health Records exist for over 90% of Canadians. Significant efforts are now being made to allow these EHRs to be better shared across the healthcare system and directly with patients in the form of Personal Health Records (PHRs). Allowing patients to have easy access to an updated health record online can help patients play a more active role in their care and ensure that all caregivers have access to accurate data. Sunnybrook’s ‘MyChart’ system is a current example of an electronic PHR system.
- E-Prescribing – In Canada, the vast majority of prescriptions are still handwritten. Future E-Prescribing systems will allow your doctor to send prescription information directly to your pharmacists system. E-Prescribing is important because it can reduce the risk of misreading prescriptions, it can also prevent abuse of controlled substances and make it much more convenient for caregivers and patients to get refills.
Meeting the substantial challenges of delivering home healthcare to an aging population requires that we make better use new and innovative ways to deliver care. Combining innovative new technologies with an advocacy approach are critical components for finding, managing and supporting better quality health and homecare.