Canada’s Digital Health Leaders are Ready to Put Patients First

Darren Stevens February 18, 2020

A patient-first healthcare model will be part of Canada’s future. That much has been clear since the early 2000’s, though it has not always seemed to be on any kind of active timeline. It’s been more of a utopian ideal than something we believed we can achieve in the near term. 

I observed a noticeable shift in that momentum at Digital Health Canada’s Ahead of the Curve Conference 2020, which we attended on February 6, 2020 here in Vancouver. It seems now that everyone has an appetite for digital patient care — everyone is unilaterally accepting that patients will own their own health records. 

At previous health conferences we have attended, the idea of a patient owning their own health data has been a topic of some debate. It’s not uncommon to lament that before we can get into the complexities of what this looks like in terms of a data-sharing model, we have to get buy-in from all three stakeholders: health authorities, caregivers, and patients themselves. 

Caregivers often don’t have the luxury of time to consider new approaches to care, may not have the capabilities to share paper- or document-based information. There are valid concerns that some of the information may not be understandable by patients without professional interpretation. Meanwhile, health authorities contemplate how the disparate reams of historical health data can be aggregated across data silos and served back to patients and their care teams. The idea itself involves a lot of acceptance of change, both technical and at care facilities themselves. 

Changing to a Patient-First Model

In the morning session, “Digital Health Strategies Across Canada,” the panelists spoke about the advancements in each of their provinces. We learned that Newfoundland and Labrador have made impressive gains, connecting 100% of their community pharmacies for prescription management, and providing an electronic medical record for 60% of their population and growing.

Meanwhile, the Provinces of BC and Saskatchewan have also put action plans in place to explore patient data ownership, and decided on the minimum ages of patients that can access their health data. They have also agreed to use their respective versions of their provincial digital ID for authentication. 

Alberta has agreed to make data available to people 14 years or older, whereas Saskatchewan has decided on 16. Both of these are aligned with the minimum driving age in each of those provinces. 

The Patient is a Domain Expert

At a session before lunch titled Patient Access to Information and Patient Portal Approaches in Ontario, Alberta, and BC, the panelists talked about why this trend is important. 

The patient is their own best advocate and expert on their “care team.” Their own first-person experience makes them an expert in their care. By getting access to their medical records and treatment history, that’s how they are able to get the best possible health care. “The patient should be considered part of the care team”, states one of the experts. 

Remote Care and AI as Treatment Options

After lunch, back-to-back sessions talked about using AI and virtual care. While these can seem like radical concepts, the technology to achieve them already exists and can offer a lot of value while saving resources. 

In some areas of BC, seeing a physician requires a lot of travel and time. Long drives and ferries can consume an entire day, all for a 20-minute appointment, and the travel itself may have a negative impact on the patient’s health. By enabling virtual care, patient fatigue is lessened, costs can be saved and patient outcomes improved, especially for the instances where an in-person visit is not necessary. For example, a patient, possibly even in the presence of a nurse, can video-conference with a physician for checkups and prescription updates, and vital statistics can be communicated back to the system from remote equipment like network-enabled heart and blood pressure monitors. 

There are instances when patient ownership of medical records can improve their own care, even without the need for a nurse or physician. Using artificial intelligence (AI) tools like digital home assistants can help patients develop habits that lead to improved wellness. 

For example, a voice assistant can remind a patient which medication to take, and respond to any feedback about a patient’s health. A conversation can take place between patient and machine. The AI doesn’t need to act as a physician, but they can tell you when you might need to see one based on the symptoms you report to it. It’s another way to provide assistance and continuity, without adding a strain on resources. A patient can make an informed decision with the help of AI that accesses their medical history and treatment protocols. 

Where Do We Go From Here? 

The burning question is always “how.” The complexities of the data-sharing systems can be hard to fathom for some. Even industry digital health experts who are in the know are often left to ponder whether there’s a path to success between where we are and where we want to go. 

How do we make it possible for a digital assistant to accurately discuss health and prescriptions schedules with a patient? “Ok Google, which pills do I take again?” How does that data, collected from multiple sources, remain protected from bad actors or any other outside interference — for example from advertisers? 

The answer to this puzzle and other digital health efficiencies doesn’t have to be as costly or as complex as it seems on the surface. At Avato we continue to advocate for investment in the middle layer: using new technology to enable digital transformation. 

There’s no need to dismantle and bypass the legacy solutions that continue to prop up our healthcare systems. With a middle layer, we can use APIs to access and share only the necessary packets of existing data with new customer-facing tools. 

We often make the mistake of thinking that only a “big bang” approach to digital transformation will work, but the reality is that industries of all kinds, from finance to aviation and many more, are discovering that a middle layer technology solution can be cost-effective and help enable the integration of care with new systems much sooner. 

If you want to talk more about this topic and learn about what I mean by a middle layer technology solution, I hope you’ll reach out to me on LinkedIn. Avato has worked with and continues to work with health authorities to create better care and new efficient systems by integrating their existing legacy solutions. For more information, visit our website or connect with me on LinkedIn

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