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We can no longer delay the digital health revolution

It’s impossible to have a conversation about work these days without hearing stories about people feeling busy or overwhelmed. Look no further than the Internet, which is full of the most-stressful careers lists.

While these lists come in many shapes and forms, they tend to have one thing in common: the absence of the word “doctor” or “physician”.

Canadians can be forgiven for not thinking of physicians when it comes to the most stressful jobs. Many of us have long standing relationships with family physicians going back years, usually marked by pleasant, professional encounters. Even those who rarely engage with the health care system may look to TV or movies and see physicians who are glamourous, well-compensated and well-rested.

Ask physicians how they actually feel, however, and you’ll hear a very different story. The evidence is more than anecdotal. Recent data underscores that all is not well with Canada’s physicians.

An October 2018 study by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) revealed that physicians are burning out while trying to grapple with the many challenges inherent in our complex health care system. Of the almost 3,000 physicians surveyed, one in four said they have experienced burnout, and an incredible 34 per cent reported symptoms of depression.

It’s a complex issue with many factors at play. But besides the stress of dealing with people facing serious health issues, the CMA cites heavy patient loads, thinning resources and an explosion in data as factors that can take a toll on a physician’s well being.

Analogue solutions in a digital world

And it’s these points that I find the most frustrating. So many aspects of our lives have been transformed for the better because of technology. Leaning into innovation has prompted organizations to rethink how they do business, providing consumers with the ability to virtually view anything on their device, at a time and place that’s most convenient for them. The retail and travel industries, for example, look quite different now than they did 10 years ago.

But for a variety of reasons, Canada’s health care sector has been slow to change. The result? Most physicians conduct business with the system in much the same way as generations before. Forced to play telephone or fax machine tag with colleagues or peers to set up referral appointments for patients. Waiting on test results for weeks on end. All of this takes a toll not just on physicians and their practices, but on patients, too.

I firmly believe that the lack of digital health tools and services is one big reason why so many physicians, and other health care professionals, are feeling overwhelmed. The world around them is generating data in record volumes at the same time as an aging population puts even more pressure on their ability to deliver optimal patient care. And in return, they are mostly operating in an analogue world.

The Access 2022 movement powered by Infoway

We must tackle this issue with the utmost urgency. It starts by shifting our approach to digital health solutions from words into action. It’s time for a new day in health care.

This is why Canada Health Infoway is committing to an ambitious, four-year plan called ACCESS 2022, to kickstart Canada’s digital health revolution. This plan has the power to help physicians work more efficiently and deliver better patient care, and to harness the power of Canada’s technology industry to bring our country to the forefront of digital health care innovation.

As someone who has spent a career in the health care industry, it’s clear that technology is a critical enabler to transforming patient outcomes and making working conditions better for physicians. Infoway and its partners recently completed a Canadian Physician Survey, looking at physician use of digital health and its impacts. Among the findings that will be released publicly in a few weeks, 82 per cent of primary care physicians who use electronic records report that they provide more efficient care because of them. Among primary care physicians who use a broader suite of electronic functions, that number is even higher – 92 per cent report they are more efficient.

As we approach Digital Health Week 2018, I look forward to unveiling Infoway’s bold vision for change in our health care system. What we’re planning is nothing short of a new national challenge - and one that’s drastically overdue.

The goal is to provide Canadians with a modern health care system that provides better patient outcomes while also easing burdens on doctors by making the system more efficient and sustainable.

An estimated $26 billion in cost savings and other efficiencies have accrued to Canadians and our health care system since 2007 as a result of investments in digital health initiatives, from telehealth and telehomecare to electronic medical records.

But we’ve only just begun. Infoway is committed to substantially growing those benefits in the years ahead. We have the experience and track record, and a plan to harness the incredible pool of talented innovators in Canada so that together we transform our health care system.

I invite our partners and stakeholders to join us, and call upon our community of physicians and other health care providers to learn more and partner with us to build a health care system that’s more efficient and sustainable for you and the next generation of physicians.

To learn more, visit www.access2022.ca

Michael Green is President and CEO of Canada Health Infoway

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