n aging population, advances in technology, and a desire to be more proactive with care are helping to shape the future of health care. There’s great potential for these advancements to create a positive impact on the lives of Canadians.

Playing an active role

Dr. Brian Goldman, a physician at the Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Centre at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, is seeing big shifts coming. “Many patients take a passive approach to their health care,” he says. “We think it has nothing to do with us and everything to do with what a doctor says and does. That’s not true.”

While you can’t alter your genetics, you can embrace good lifestyle habits. “Many people don’t understand how much health outcomes stem from smoking, alcohol, and the consumption of too much salt and refined sugar. Making small changes early in life has a huge impact on one’s future health.”

Embracing knowledge is part of a growing movement toward health literacy, a basic understanding of what shapes health. Fortunately, with the wealth of information available, being well informed has never been easier. Dr. Goldman, also host of CBC Radio’s White Coat, Black Art, and the author of The Secret Language of Doctors, recommends referring to credible sources, like the Public Health Agency of Canada, Canadian Institute of Health Information, or the Mayo Clinic.

Our aging population

As the median age of Canadians increases, the shift to patient empowerment is timely. Seniors are especially poised to reap the benefits. Michael Green, President and CEO of Canada Health Infoway, says advances in digital health have opened up new models of care ­— making it possible for more seniors living with chronic conditions to be cared for at home. 

“The use of in-home digital health equipment provides seniors with the peace of mind of knowing their conditions are monitored by health care professionals who can intervene before serious complications arise,” he says. “Patients are reporting very high levels of satisfaction as a result of being in the program.”

Green also recognizes technology’s ability to boost patient confidence. “It has made it possible for patients to be more proactive members of their own care teams by providing them with access to their health information,” adds Green. “Ninety-five percent of respondents of a recent Infoway survey of patients who have access to their health information said they feel more confident taking care of their health.”

Changing roles

Dr. Goldman foresees the role of physicians changing. “You don’t need a doctor for every situation every time,” he says. “We’re seeing more nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and pharmacists managing chronic morbidities like diabetes and heart disease. Health coaches providing peer-to-peer counselling encourage patients to develop and adopt healthy lifestyles.”

As he points out, “You don’t want to be like a piece of driftwood, just floating in the water, going wherever the current takes you. It’s important to be empowered and be your own health care advocate.”