As the median age of Canadians creeps upward, the importance of taking charge of our health care is coming to the forefront. That means taking an active role, asking key questions, and working with medical and health care professionals as a team. This marks a switch in the way our health has been managed in the past. It’s a pivotal moment for our country when we can advocate for our own wellbeing.

Why the pressing need for change? Two major factors are in play, according to Dr. Michael Guerriere, Chief Medical Officer, Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer with Telus Health. “The continued reliance on outdated tools makes for unnecessary inefficiencies and stress for clinicians who are already overwhelmed by demand,” he says. “For patients, the impacts are more immediate. These include long wait times to see a specialist and gaps in continuity of care when consulting with other health care providers. The result is delays, preventable errors, and an enormous clerical burden for the health care system.”

Another issue is inefficient sharing of information. “Poor provider-to-provider communication is consistently identified as a leading challenge and cause of avoidable, adverse events,” says Dr. Guerriere. He points to an Australian study of primary care physicians, which indicated 50 percent of all adverse events were associated with communication difficulties. In Canada, there were similar results. A survey of health care facilities, colleges, and associations showed 25 percent cited communication and documentation errors as the main problems impacting patient safety or health care errors.

Forging new directions in health care

The movement now is to set a new standard of health care in this country. Terms like “patient-centred” and “personalized.” Dr. Guerriere says that policy makers, health advocates, administrators, clinicians, and health tech innovators alike are determined to crack the code on achieving a higher standard of care that is safer, more accessible, and better attuned to patient needs.

The paths toward solutions point to the evolution of digital health. It holds a great deal of promise and consumers are ready for it, increasing the demand for things like the availability of electric medical records (EMRs). These allow doctors to communicate with other physicians about the care of patients electronically by putting all relevant information, from lab results to specialist consultations in one place, banishing the transference of data via outdated and unreliable methods like phone and fax.

MedDialog is a national clinical solution that is changing patient lives and outcomes. It helps save physicians valuable time that could be better spent with patients, but also has the potential to eliminate fatal medical errors. Dr. James Kavanagh, a family physician based in Cambridge, ON is just one doctor who is pleased with the forward momentum of digital health in Canada. “For many years, I have wanted to communicate with physician colleagues about patients and I am glad to see that it is not only becoming possible, but can be done right from within my EMR,” he says.

This advanced system will connect physicians and other health care specialists in crucial ways. Among the benefits Dr. Kavanagh sees include: reporting to physician colleagues about patient seen while on call, sending referrals to specialists who also have MedDialog, sending electronic reminders to specialists for consultation requests, then being able to put reports into digital charts easily, and asking specialists questions and getting quick replies via Ontario’s eConsult.

Improving lives and ensuring better outcomes

Fortunately, Canada has one of the most advanced telecommunications infrastructures in the world, thanks to Telus Health, regarded as one of the most progressive companies for the advancement of digital health care. This includes the Pharma Space program, an invaluable tool for pharmacists and patients. Now used by 1,400 pharmacies with more than 320,000 pharmacy customers registered, it is already having a profound impact on the health of Canadians.

“When doctors and pharmacists embrace digital technology it can ensure patients stick with treatment plans and lead to better health outcomes,” says Paul Lepage, President of Telus Health. “Pharma Space enables patients to play a larger role in managing their own medications. Prescription refill reminders help them with renewals, which results in better adherence to drug treatment plans.”

There are other advantages, too. Patients can view the drugs entered in their profile, request prescription refills, track prescription status (like how many refills are left), manage the prescriptions of family members such as an aging parent or a child, access to information about the medications they take and potential side effects, plus automatic renewals that reduce the number of unnecessary trips to the pharmacy.

These are critical benefits as health care in Canada is bracing for what’s being dubbed the “silver tsunami,” as the number of seniors now exceeds that of children in the country for the first time ever. Two-thirds of Canadians over the age of 65 take 5 or more different prescriptions, and one-quarter take 10 or more prescription drugs. Clearly, the shift is underway.

It underscores the need of patients and their care givers to speak with their physicians and pharmacist to discuss how they may leverage technology to better guide their health in a positive new directions.