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Access to medical information and involvement in their own care improves Canadians' health

When Garry Laxdal was diagnosed with rectal cancer – requiring radiation and chemotherapy, followed by major surgery – he thought his life was over. No more golf games, no more hunting at his lodge. But after two days of wallowing in self-pity, he decided to do something about it. A self-described "information junkie," the retired Calgarian turned to online tools and resources available through Alberta Health Services to understand what exactly abdominoperineal resection entailed and how to prepare for the surgery (and speed recovery) through nutrition, exercise and meditation. Once he discovered he could continue golfing and hunting after surgery, he felt empowered to take control of his health.

Not only has he beat cancer, Laxdal spent only five days recovering in hospital after surgery (21 days is the norm) and was off painkillers in two days, rather than weeks. And he just wrapped up his 100th golf game since the surgery two years ago.

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"Patient engagement is the blockbuster drug of the 21st century," Laxdal says. "I have my life back, and I have digital access and tools to thank for that, as well as outstanding service from Alberta Health Services." It's why he decided to become a patient advocate for Canada Health Infoway, sharing his experience through videos and online resources to provide information and hope to other patients.

"People are worried and scared because they don't know what's going to happen when they walk into the operating room. Providing tools and resources to engage patients in their own well-being not only helps to reduce anxiety, but can improve health outcomes," he says.

"The term 'patient-centred' care has been around for decades, but the opportunity to improve the patient experience continues to exist," says Michael Green, president and CEO of Infoway, an independent, federally funded non-profit that works to improve patients' lives through health information technology. "Consumer health solutions are one of Infoway's priorities because we know that improving the patient experience improves patient health."

This includes improving Canadians' access to their health information, encouraging better communication with health care providers and empowering them to be more involved in their care.

Having access to their health information can also be a lifesaver: It was for Judith Morley when she needed emergency medical attention while on vacation. Morley, who to Mexico when she experienced extreme abdominal pain during her flight. She was rushed to hospital in Mexico, where doctors were concerned the cancer had returned and wanted to operate immediately. However, they were able to access her digital records and find the root of the issue, so she was able to avoid an unnecessary surgery.

Research demonstrates that patients who have access to their health information feel more confident about managing their health. A survey by Infoway found that 93 per cent of patients felt it allowed them to have more informed discussions with their doctors. More patients are also taking control of their health management through mobile tools such as Fitbits.

On the flip side, clinicians report an improvement in their therapeutic relationships with patients, according to online patient portal miDASH's Consumer Health Solution Benefits Evaluation, resulting in benefits such as a decrease in clinic call volume and no-show appointments.

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"Knowledge is key," says Laxdal. "It's refreshing as a patient dealing with Infoway because they value patients' input. Together we're a lot stronger and we can make more advancements."

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

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