More than a decade ago, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) – representing the majority of the country’s physicians – pointed out that because most care is provided at the community level then information technology (IT) resources in health should be focused at this level. This, at a time, when the country’s health IT coordinating body was funnelling millions of dollars into large health IT infrastructure projects.
In Canada we are used to speaking in geographic/climactic terms and it would be fair to say the speed at which we moved towards using IT and digital technologies to better support primary care and other community-based services was glacial. Not to push the analogy, but in the last year or two this move is now mirroring the pace of the impact we are seeing with climate change in Canada – in other words, with great rapidity.
It seems this country – which has often lagged many European countries and the U.S. in adopting digital approaches to health care – is working all-out to make up the gap. In fact, as I write this, a weeks long discussion among Canadian physicians and patients on Twitter about how to better enable patients to take direct control of their health information is showing no sign of abating.
Using digital technologies to make care more available in the community now underpins a major restructuring of health care in Canada’s most populous province – Ontario. A provincial committee providing the impetus for this change noted “this could look like new partnerships to deliver specific services or to help support the integration of care at the local level.”
An example of the type of technologies being investigated is a virtual house call service, using videoconferencing to allow providers in Hamilton, ON to conduct a high-level patient counter with marginalised patients who have been using emergency departments for care because they do not have access to a primary care provider.
Such changes are not limited to Ontario. At the other end of the country, British Columbia has just announced its residents would have access to a free app allowing them set up virtual house calls through the province’s largest health IT vendor.
A number of initiatives are also underway to better use health technology to better support the provision of health care in Canada’s remote and isolated indigenous communities where the standard of care and health outcomes often lag far behind the general population. This brings up an important point: While digital health opens many new horizons to provide better care in these communities, infra-structure support such as reliable high-speed Internet access is still essential – and still often lacking.
As for the CMA – which can take some credit for the increased recognition of how health IT can support community-based care – that organisation has recently announced an initiative partnering with Canada’s national specialty and family medicine organizations to create a new national task force investigating how to remove regulatory and policy barriers hampering physicians in providing better virtual care.
Interested in learning more about how health IT can enable the shift to community-based care? Attend this track on Thursday 17 June at the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Conference in Helsinki.
Health Writer and Social Media Commentator