New tech helps Canadian healthcare save money, time & lives

June 8, 2016 Christine Wong

How the digital transformation of Canada’s hospitals will change the way we see doctors…literally.

Canadian Healthcare digital transformation

It happened suddenly at the worst time of the year.

While travelling, I woke up one morning with pink eye. I’m allergic to the main ingredient in over-the-counter eye ointments, so I knew from past experience that I’d have to go to a doctor for a special prescription.

Since it was the last business day before the holidays, I also knew every walk-in clinic would be jammed. When I arrived at the nearest one, the waiting time was two hours. Two hours!

“Unless you want to do a telemedicine appointment,” the receptionist added. “There are only two other patients ahead of you for that.”

I went for it. A consulting practitioner conducted an initial exam with me in person. Then a doctor in another city spoke to me via video conferencing, asked me more questions and authorized the final prescription. It was a pleasant, thorough experience that redistributed existing healthcare resources in their most efficient way.

This is just a glimpse (through my thankfully healed eyes) of how digital technology is transforming Canadian healthcare. Here’s a closer look at other types of healthcare technology, how they’re being used and the benefits they’re producing for patients and care providers across the country.

The digital technology transformation

Many of the same digital technologies that are already transforming business are also being applied to healthcare.

Cloud computing allows clinicians, patients and their families to access, update and share health data via mobile devices and apps anytime, anywhere. This type of collaboration means a coordinated approach to treatment can be developed so everyone is ‘on the same page’ at all times.

Social media is giving people a forum to share their medical experiences, seek support from online communities and stay informed about their conditions with help from other patients, researchers and medical personnel around the world.

Analytics correlates and analyzes staggering amounts of global medical data in an efficient, valuable way. By giving doctors access to huge pools of patient and research data, predictive analytics helps them estimate the likeliest outcome from various types of treatments. They can use that data to prescribe treatments that demonstrate the highest success rates.

Apps and gamification in action

The Pain Squad app from Toronto’s SickKids Hospital is just one example of how digital technology is creating innovative care solutions in Canada.

The mobile app helps child cancer patients track their pain so it can be managed quickly and effectively. Patients can earn rewards if they fill out their pain monitoring questionnaire twice a day to report the location, cause, frequency and intensity of their pain.

The gamified experience of the iOS app has led to 80 per cent of patients filling out their daily pain reports vs. a compliance rate of just 11 per cent for paper reports. The app helps doctors adjust pain medication and cancer treatments more effectively while giving the kids a sense of control over their own oncology care and pain management.

Making dollars and sense

Besides saving lives, new technology is also helping Canada’s healthcare system save time and money.

Figures from the non-profit agency Canada Health Infoway suggest that just four technologies – telehealth, drug information systems, diagnostic imaging systems and physician EMRs (electronic medical records) – produced an estimated $13 billion in benefits for the Canadian healthcare system between 2007 and 2014.

A 2012 report by the Conference Board of Canada concludes that if Canadians could electronically consult with physicians, access test results and renew prescriptions online, they would avoid 47 million in-person doctor visits and save 18.8 million hours per year in sick time taken off work.

The future of digital healthcare

In its 2015 Healthcare IT Vision report, Accenture paints an even more exciting picture of digital healthcare in the future.

Its researchers predict we’ll be able to request medication from our smartwatches, get real-time text alerts when our blood pressure is high and receive one unified e-bill for all our healthcare services.

Today we can track our fitness and activity levels on the go with wearables or monitor our blood pressure and blood sugar remotely from mobile devices. According to Accenture’s forecast, one day we’ll be notified of wait times on our mobile devices and skip the reception desk by wearing sensor wristbands that automatically check us in on arrival.

A long-term process with many stakeholders

Transforming something as complex as healthcare through digital technology is an ongoing, long-term process. Various public sector stakeholders – including governments, hospitals and research institutes – will have to work together with private sector counterparts such as drug companies and IT vendors.

Healthcare is publicly funded in Canada and subject to compliance regulations around privacy and data sovereignty. On top of integrating disparate data and software sources with legacy IT systems, there’s the overriding need to keep healthcare data secure.

Like any journey, there may be a few pain points along the way but it will ultimately be worth it for patients and healthcare providers alike.

Learn more about how IT is shifting dramatically in education, including new technology teachers are using in the classroom.

About the Author

Christine Wong

Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff writer with ITBusiness.ca, she has also worked as a reporter for the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV and the CBC.

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