Digital health offers plenty of benefits for Canadians, from the ability to view personal records to e-booking medical appointments to consulting with health practitioners online. And adoption of digital health is growing: The availability of consumer digital health services has more than doubled between 2014 and 2016, according to Canada Health Infoway. Despite these benefits, there's still uncertainty and confusion around digital health and what it means for citizens, clinicians and the health care system.
Here are some common myths about digital health and the facts behind them.
MYTH: Introducing virtual visits means I won't see my doctor any more.
FACT: Virtual visits won't eliminate the need for faceto- face visits with a physician, which will still be the cornerstone of primary care. In some cases, though, a virtual visit can save time, provide faster access to care and avoid a work absence, according to the Virtual Visits in British Columbia 2015 patient survey. Virtual visits can also help with continuity of care for patients living in remote communities. Heather Blois lives in the snorth and uses telehealth services for her adopted son, who has a bad burn on his right hand, requiring the services of a pediatric plastic surgeon. The reality of living in the north is you often must travel for specialist care, says Blois. "But the great thing with telehealth is some of the follow-up can be a lot less stressful… I feel like it is face-to-face because you're talking in real time."
MYTH: I won't understand my lab results if I access them online because they're too complicated.
FACT: A 2015 Infoway study found that patients who view their results online are no more anxious than those who don't. In fact, those with chronic conditions are less anxious when they get their results online, and timely access to lab test results plays a part in patient engagement and empowerment, which are linked to improved chronic disease management."I've been using digital health for about a year and primarily use it to update information for my daughter, connect with service providers and stay up to date on immunizations," says Toni Williams, a busy mom in Duncan, B.C.
MYTH: The government and insurance companies will be able to see my digital health records.
FACT: Digital health records are still subject to privacy law; all provinces and territories in Canada have laws that protect the confidentiality of personal health information, and governments and insurance companies don't have access to identifiable information in your records (except in exceptional circumstances, or if consent is given). Support for digital health records is strong, according to a privacy study conducted by Earnscliffe Strategy Group on behalf of Infoway earlier this year. Most respondents believe that rapid access and accuracy of data result in improved care and treatment decisions, as well as better outcomes.
MYTH: Digital health is only for the young and tech savvy.
FACT: Canadians are more connected than ever — including seniors. Wendy Waters, an artist in Saskatoon with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, says remote patient monitoring through telehomecare is a "godsend" that provides people such as her with the care and support they need, in their own homes. A telehomecare patient experience survey in 2016 by the Ontario Telemedicine Network found that 98.3 per cent of telehomecare patients between the ages of 75 to 84 were happy with the program.
MYTH: Canada has spent billions of dollars on digital health with nothing to show for it.
FACT: Much progress has been made toward digital health, with 94.6 per cent of the key components of health records now digitized and available electronically. Digital health empowers Canadians to become active members of their care team, allows clinicians to make more informed decisions and results in efficiencies for the health care system, producing an estimated $19.2 billion in benefits since 2007, according to Infoway's annual report (2016-2017).
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Edge Content Studio. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation