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Digital Health at Work in Canadian Hospitals

From bar codes that ensure patients get the correct medication to clinical decision support tools to hospital information systems, digital health is an integral part of Canadian hospitals. It helps provide authorized staff with timely information about a patient and also supports accurate communication between staff members, as well as with patients and families.

Here are just some of the ways digital health is at work in Canadian hospitals:

  • Enabling faster diagnoses. 99 per cent of diagnostic imaging in hospitals is now digital. This enables faster diagnoses and treatment of patients. In fact, these digital health systems have been shown to reduce turnaround time by 30-40 per cent.
  • Helping care teams make the right decisions. Computerized order entry and other decision support tools help staff make the right decisions based on up-to-date clinical evidence as well as best practice recommendations, providing better, safer care.
  • Improving patient outcomes. Electronic medical records and other digital technologies have the potential to improve patient outcomes by alerting clinicians to preventable drug interactions, and by helping hospitals identify and track infections, medication errors and other adverse events.
  • Keeping you connected. Some hospitals offer patient portals or other tools to keep you and your family connected through your care journey with access to information such as lab results and appointment notes.
  • Providing critical information during emergencies. Electronic health records can speak for you when you can’t. With provincial/territorial electronic health record systems, your medical information is in the hands of your emergency care team, when and where it matters most.
  • Virtual consultations. Telehealth and e-visits enable your care team to consult with specialists regardless of their location or yours, increasing access to care even from some of the most remote communities.

 

Digital Health Information and Your Privacy

Understanding how your information is stored, accessed, shared and protected with digital health is an important part of being an engaged partner in your health care. Here are five top things to know about how privacy is at the forefront of digital health, and what role you play.

  1. Those that collect your health information are subject to laws

  2. The health care providers and organizations that collect your information are subject to health information privacy or e-health laws in the jurisdictions in which they provide services. These laws require personal health information to be protected with proper security; they also require procedures, policies and training programs to be in place for those using digital health systems.

  3. The information in your health record is yours

  4. While the information is held by someone other than yourself, the information in the record(s) is yours and you have the right to access it. However, the physical record(s) is the responsibility of the person or organization that created it.  

    The new digital health world also means there are more ways for you to participate in managing your health. For example, you might use an application on a personal mobile device to monitor a medical condition (e.g., blood pressure) or to record lifestyle activities (e.g., diet). This means that you may also be involved in collecting, managing and/or sharing your personal health information.

  5. Your information is collected once and, where authorized, may be used multiple times

  6. Digital health involves creating a network of systems to securely hold and share health information with authorized care providers. It also may mean your information is collected once by your doctors, hospitals, clinics, etc. in digital health systems and used for a number of authorized purposes, such as:

    • Providing or informing decisions about your care
    • Paying for the services
    • Analyzing de-identified data for health system purposes

  7. Your health information is protected with digital health

  8. Your privacy is respected and your personal health information is protected by digital health systems through technical and legal means. For example:

    • At a technical level, digital health systems include functions that record what changes were made to a record, by whom and when. This means that you or an auditor can determine who accessed your record and when. This type of auditing, which is not possible with paper records, can help identify unauthorized viewing of personal health information and assist investigations into privacy breaches.
    • From a legal perspective, health information privacy laws make sure you have someone to call – an organization’s privacy officer or the jurisdiction’s Privacy Commissioner – if you have concerns that your privacy has been breached. The laws also include strong measures that can be taken if people inappropriately access personal health information.

  9. You play a role in ensuring your privacy is protected with digital health

  10. Canadians are increasingly using applications or “apps” to collect information, connect with health care providers and share information with family and friends about their health and lifestyle. This means that you also play a role and have a responsibility for ensuring your privacy is protected and your information is kept secure by:

    • Knowing what personal health and lifestyle information the apps are collecting and sharing
    • Being aware of the security settings of these applications
    • Keeping mobile devices safe and their security features up to date
    • Knowing where the information is being stored and how it is being used
    • Being confident that the family and friends you are sharing information with will respect your privacy and treat the information appropriately.

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Note: Canada Health Infoway does not collect or hold any personal health information.

Finding Digital Health in Your Community

Every province and territory, and health care provider, are at different stages of using digital health. Regardless, digital health can provide benefits for both your health care providers and for you, and there are options available to you to incorporate digital health into your care today.

Speak to your health care provider about what options are available, and how they are using digital health. Here are some questions you can ask at your next appointment:

  • Are you using an electronic medical record in this practice?
  • Are you able to access my records from the local hospital electronically?
  • Do you have access to provincial health records?
  • How is my health information kept private and secure within this practice?
  • What wellness tools and health apps do you recommend?
  • Do you offer digital health tools for me to use, such as e-visits, e-booking or e-prescription renewals?
  • Can I access my health record online and how?

 

 

Digital Health for Health Care Providers

Health care professionals need timely access to the most up-to-date information when making a patient care decision. However, lab test results, X-rays, medication histories, and other pertinent information are often in many different locations resulting in duplication, extra administrative tasks, or relying on a patient’s memory – ultimately leading to a delay in treatment or care planning. In fact, 93 per cent of physicians who use an electronic medical record said EMRs allow them to provide improved patient care.

The use of digital health in Canada is gaining momentum. Health care professionals in many parts of the country are already working with electronic systems and are experiencing benefits such as timely access to information, improved communication and collaboration, decision support and workflow, efficiency and avoided duplication as well as improved information management and patient education.

Physicians, nurses and pharmacists from a variety of practice settings agree that there is no going back to paper.

Digital Immunization Records

The yellow immunization health card is an iconic symbol for every Canadian.

But as a parent, imagine being able to check your child’s immunization history electronically instead of having to dig for the paper record? Or what if you received an email when it was time for their next vaccination?  And as an adult, what if you and your health care providers had electronic access to your life long immunization history?

Today, Holly, a mother from British Columbia, has the reassurance of knowing that her children's immunization records are available digitally and can be retrieved easily and quickly by public health clinicians. Holly shares her story in this video.


 

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Tips for Selecting a Digital Health App

To help achieve fitness and health goals, Canadians are coming to rely on various health technologies to track their progress. With so many tools and apps available it is important to choose ones that make sense for you.

Dr. Kendall Ho, Professor with University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine is leading development of digital emergency medicine.  He often prescribes apps for his patients and has provided five tips that will make it easier to choose the best health app for you.

  1. Your Condition: Apps can be great for many purposes, such as tracking symptoms, managing chronic conditions or measuring fitness goals. Talk to your health care provider about how you’d like to use an app — to ensure it’s a good fit for your condition and wellness goals.
  2. Ease of Use: Unless it is easy to use, you won’t end up using it. Consider the amount of information you’re required to enter, how often you have to enter information and if calendar reminders are available.
  3. Effectiveness: Do your research! Guidance from your health care provider, and reviews from other users can be insightful, especially from someone with the same health condition or goal.
  4. Privacy: You’ll want the information you enter to remain confidential. It’s critical to research understand the privacy policies for apps and the companies behind them, and to also know the privacy settings on your smartphone. Also remember, like any technology, apps can be vulnerable to hacking, so consider the information you are sharing.
  5. Safe: Some apps provide advice that may not take into account your medical history or conditions. A member of your health care team can provide valuable insights on this advice to ensure it’s tailored for you.

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