The United States’ northern neighbor is strongly pushing its electronic health records (EHR) and telehealth programs, as well as training engineers, entrepreneurs, clinicians and patients in using digital health tools.
While the United States arguably stands front and center in the digital health discussion, its neighbor up north is right in the thick of things when it comes to applying digital health in their universal healthcare system.
According to a Gallup Poll, 57% of Canadians feel "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their largely publicly-funded healthcare system (compared to 25% for the U.S.), but there is definitely room for improvement. Digital health is a key factor.
Per a Canada Health Infoway survey, 96% of Canadians think it's “important that their healthcare system make use of digital health tools and capabilities,” and 89% feel it is important that they personally have full advantage of these tools and capabilities.
Canadians are creating these digital health tools and strategies today.
Big Push for EHR/EMR Adoption
Canada Health Infoway is a federally-funded, not-for-profit organization which partners with Canada’s provinces and territories to develop and implement health IT projects.
It is providing hospitals, providers and vendors Canada’s EHR Blueprint and iEHR (interoperable electronic health records) program. Infoway has already enrolled approximately 12,000 clinicians in jurisdictional EMR programs and approximately 25,000 health care providers in busy specialty clinics across Canada.
The organization has also launched Certification Services to accelerate the introduction of private, secure, interoperable health IT solutions and maximize its EHR investments. Canadian and internationally-based criteria used to certify products and organizations include health data privacy, security, interoperability and management standards.
Infoway also started its educational campaign called Knowing is Better for Clinicians, designed to raise awareness among Canadian clinicians working in primary care, acute care, public health and community care about the benefits of interconnected health IT systems and EHR/EMR.
It also launched the Better Health Together campaign to showcase patients who are benefiting from digital health programs and services.
Telehealth and Telemedicine Programs
Canada’s jurisdictions have implemented successful telehealth programs in remote and rural communities, including aboriginal and Inuit patient populations.
According to the report Telehealth Benefits and Adoption: Connecting People and Providers Across Canada, approximately 73% of telehealth clinical sessions were generated by three clinical service areas: Mental Health (which includes addictions, forensic mental health, general mental health services, psychiatry, psychology and psychometry) (54%), Internal Medicine (15%) and Oncology (13%).
More than 80% of patient enrolled in telehomecare programs “reported satisfaction with these remote services, better capability to manage their care, and measurable improvements in clinical outcomes and hospitalizations,” according to the report.
Also, “various telestroke programs in Canada have been able to treat about 20% of consultations with tPA, with outcomes comparable to those of patients treated at major hospitals.” Other successful programs include telewoundcare and teleophthalmology programs in Ontario and British Columbia.
According to the report, telehealth programs in Canada are growing at least 20% per year and will reach 1.2 million consultations within 5-10 years. This would save Canada’s healthcare system approximately $730 million, plus an additional $440 million in cost avoidance for patients.
True Innovation Hubs and Deep Talent Pool
Geoff Clapp, Mentor at Rock Health and former CTO/COO of Health Hero Network (now Bosch Healthcare), recently visited Toronto for a Health 2.0 event and shared his thoughts about why the city is the next “digital health hub.”
He was particularly impressed about MaRS Innovation, which he described as a “mashup of office space, incubator, seed fund, and architectural gem.” According to its website, MaRS “commercializes the most promising research breakthroughs from 15 of Toronto’s top universities, institutions and research institutes.”
Clapp described it as “the type of long-term investment in a community that will have returns for decades to come. I have no doubts that we will look back on a wave of successful Digital Health entrepreneurs and find ties back to the MaRS programs.”
Clapp also praised the talent pool in Canada, particularly from the University of Toronto Medical School and Waterloo. “Toronto is teeming with talented people, and that starts with a solid education system,” he wrote in his blog post. “Toronto checks that box as well as any other startup hotbed.”
A good example of Toronto’s talent is CloudDX of Mississauga, west of Toronto. The team, part of Biosign Technologies, was recently selected as one of the finalists in the $10M Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE competition.
Other Canadian cities check the talent box as well:
- Vancouver has Sanotron, Canada’s Centre for Wireless and Digital Health Innovation.
- Nearby Surrey, part of Metro Vancouver, has the Digital Health Hub, which aims to accelerate health technologies developed by Simon Fraser University (SFU) students and researchers.
- The University of Calgary recently hosted a Hacking Health event for Calgary developers to create front-line health solutions.
Canada is not only training its current crop of engineers, doctors, nurses and therapists in adopting digital health tools, it’s preparing the next generation of clinicians as well.
The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC), which represents the country’s 17 faculties of medicine, recognizes medical students who have created virtual patient tools using EHRs during the annual Canadian Healthcare Education Commons CHEC-CESC Virtual Patient Challenge.
“Our collaboration with Canada Health Infoway exemplifies our commitment to digital health,” said Dr. Geneviève Moineau, President and CEO of AFMC. “Our faculties of medicine need ongoing support to prepare graduating physicians to be truly adept at functioning optimally in an electronic environment.”
With clinicians and patients increasingly becoming both open and adept at using digital health tools, Canada seems poised to be on the cutting edge in its transition to digital healthcare.
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