Canadian Medical Association

Medicine needs to match the online experience Canadians are getting in other sectors, according to recent polling by Ipsos, outlined in the new Canadian Medical Association (CMA) report The Future of Connected Health Care.

From tracking appointments online (79%), to being able to access and share a complete medical history (77%) and even book medical appointments through a robot (72%), Canadians believe the health care system is likely to offer these advancements in the next ten years.

At the same time, Canadians are also willing to offer up more of their data, with almost half (44%) of those surveyed this summer indicating a willingness to input personal health data into a program like Alexa, Siri or Fitbit, to allow their health to be monitored, and to report any issues to a health professional.

But health regulations, licensing and funding models need to change to accommodate this technological shift. 

“We need everyone, including various levels of government, to help our strained medical system overcome the hurdles – from funding to regulations to policies.” – Dr. Gigi Osler, CMA president and co-chair of the Virtual Care Task Force

Dr. Serge Melanson, a long-time ER physician in Moncton and president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, has seen first-hand the benefits of more technology in medicine. 

Working at the Moncton Hospital, he saw many low acuity patients come to the ER: people with coughs, sore throats, or back pain, who often faced a long wait.

As chief of staff, he helped implement a program to re-direct these patients, finding them a same-day appointment at their family doctor or an after-hours clinic. The program worked, but the process was time-consuming, with a triage nurse having to call many individual offices to find an open appointment. That’s when Dr. Melanson turned to technology. 

“It’s a question of recognizing where are the burning platforms, and how do we integrate technologies to prop up or help innovate the health care system,” explains Dr. Melanson.

Today, the hospital is working on a pilot that will see a new software system loaded on the hospital computers and the office computers of participating clinics. It will allow the nurses to identify the re-directed patients, book them an appointment and send notes to the clinic – all in less than a minute. 

Dr. Melanson says a hospital in Montreal using this same software has been able to successfully re-direct about 10% of all ER patients, which would work out to more than 5,000 patients per year at Moncton Hospital.  

“In my experience, physicians are ready for this and patients are ready for this. It’s just a question of being able to scale these technologies and integrate them appropriately.” – Dr. Serge Melanson, ER doctor and president of the New Brunswick Medical Society   

The report also highlighted broad support for virtual care, with roughly two-thirds of Canadians surveyed expressing interest in consulting with various health care providers through a virtual platform. While younger Canadians showed greater interest, six in 10 people aged 55 or older are also highly interested. 

The Future of Connected Health Care is being released on the eve of the 2019 CMA Health Summit in Toronto. Many of the report’s findings about the need for advancements in health technology are being discussed at the event, with sessions on the value of virtual care, using tech to build better connections in health, and what advancements in AI, big data and connectivity can mean for medicine. 

The summit is expected to draw more than 900 physicians, medical learners, patients and policy-makers from across Canada.

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