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The digital health advantage: Technology is bringing new efficiencies to Canadian health care and improving patient outcomes

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Technology is changing the face of health care across Canada. Not only is it providing faster, safer care through the accessibility of patients’ medical histories and current treatment from all sources, digital solutions are also reducing delivery costs, according to leading professionals in the field.

The greatest success to date has been in the digitizing of X-rays and the development of electronic medical records, says Bill Tatham, chief executive officer of NexJ Systems — a company focused on patient-centred care. Tatham founded NexJ in 2003 because of the difficulties his wife experienced in navigating the health system when she had breast cancer.

“Thankfully, she is all right now, but it was a complex case and a difficult journey,” he says. While ill, his wife had to take on responsibility for coordinating appointments with several different doctors in different facilities, transporting reports and repeating information about medical history and various procedures. “We wanted to make a difference in health care using technology.”

Technology empowers people to do a better job, says Don Schick, CEO and founder of Strata Health Solutions. “The work we do with technology is improving patient outcomes and making the health system more efficient at the same time. We’re right in the middle of a digital health revolution. We are working to support doctors with electronic medical records, hospitals with health information systems and care providers with simple web access to pick the right package of care that’s available, supportable and safe for the patient.”

He says technology creates many benefits, not the least of which is a more efficient health system. “It is more effective, safer and cheaper to care for a patient in the community, hopefully from home.”

Both private companies work closely with Canada Health Infoway, an independent, not-for-profit organization funded by the federal government and collaborating with the provinces and territories. Infoway’s main goal is to improve the health of Canadians by working with partners to accelerate the development and use of digital health solutions

Since 2001, the federal government, through Infoway, has invested $2.1-billion in digital health, while provinces and territories have provided matching investments.

“Health care has been behind other industries in adopting digital technologies,” says Infoway president and CEO Michael Green. “We need to have similar types of efficiencies. There are a lot of gains in terms of productivity and quality of care that can be realized by having these systems in place.”

Since its founding, Infoway has developed a number of different programs focusing on improving patient health care through interconnection. “The first priority was to put the infrastructure in place,” says Green. “On a very basic level, we had to get the information — the details about patients and physicians — into the system.”

With this infrastructure largely in place, it has opened the way for electronic exchange of diagnostic images, patient reports, pharmaceutical information and other aspects of patient records as required, as well as enable such simple acts as booking medical appointments online and obtaining repeat prescriptions without having to visit a doctor’s office.

“Virtually no hospitals use X-ray film any more, for instance,” says Green. He notes digital X-rays are one of the major early successes in the technological transformation of health care. Among their advantages are speed of transmission and the availability of results to several medical consultants simultaneously.

“Family doctors are adopting electronic medical records. That is improving diagnosis by giving more information at the primary point of care. And for some patients with chronic conditions such as COPD, there are now systems in place for remote patient monitoring,” says Green. “It is now possible to monitor these patients in their homes and, through devices, alert a nurse or other clinician if their situation worsens.”

The focus now, he says, is on the benefit technology brings to patients. He cites how technology can improve the patient experience, quality of care and safety and give patients direct access to their health information.

One example of how the patient experience can be improved , says Schick, is in reducing wait times and speeding hospital discharges. “You can’t discharge a patient who needs home services until you are sure those services are available. With our technology, we’re hopefully working on the discharge plan for community support on the day the patient is admitted.”

In addition, he says, the use of technology in health systems is central to bringing savings to social health care in Canada. “The only way to do it is with scale and consistency and that’s what technology brings to the parties. We don’t replace the passion that clinicians have but we do create an infrastructure to support consistent outcomes and good cost-effective decisions.”

Read the full article here: http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/10/24/the-digital-health-advantage-technology-is-bringing-new-efficiencies-to-canadian-health-care-and-improving-patient-outcomes/