This is the second part of our OntarioMD virtual panel discussion, in which we ask the patient advocates and clinicians who spoke at our Ottawa EMR: Every Step Conference keynote panel in June for their insights on the question “What will a successful digital health transition look like to you?” If you missed Part 1 of our virtual panel, you can read it here.
Also, don’t miss your chance to join us at our Toronto EMR: Every Step Conference on September 26 for more great education and networking around how to build an effective patient-centred health care system driven by digital health technology.
Claire Dawe-McCord, Former Member, Minister’s Patient and Family Advisory Council
We have reached a tipping point in Ontario where if the digital health transition is not properly executed soon, we will be left stagnant in an ever-developing electronic world. As a Health Sciences student and a patient with many complex, life-threatening disorders, I believe digital health is crucial not only to the functioning of our health system, but also to the safety of patients. At age nine, I began experiencing what seemed to be vague, unconnected symptoms that landed me in the emergency department and specialist offices countless times. Every test came back inconclusive, until I became extremely ill in grade 11 and spent ten days in a medically induced coma and months as a hospital in-patient. During that time, I luckily received the diagnoses I had long awaited, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and a sodium channel malformation resulting in a rare neuromuscular disorder which often induces massive potassium abnormalities.
Rare diseases are difficult for patients and caregivers to navigate; In the years following my diagnoses I have had to repeatedly explain my disorders to health care providers, often in critical situations. This is where digital health can play an important role. For many people, digital health is about efficiency and cost cutting, but for patients like me, having quick digital access to my records can mean the difference between life and death.
For me, a successful digital health transition would involve a single sign-in system where all of my records dating back to when they were first digitized from all of my providers – including my primary care team both at home and at university – can be accessed in real time both by me and by any providers who may require the information. Ideally, this system would also incorporate ways for patients to make the “small things” easier: that means, being able to email my care team, book appointments online, and see where I stand on wait lists for specialist referrals.
Dr. Daniel Pepe, Family Physician, London Lambeth Family Medicine Clinic
Navigating a successful digital health transition is not an easy feat. The current digital landscape is a partially developed polaroid at best. I first was exposed to “digital healthcare” during my first night on call as a surgical resident. As a medical student, I had learned to be efficient by opening each chart to the correct page, filling out as much information as I could for my senior so that with a swipe of a pen we could move onto the next room. However, overnight, our hospital went “online” with electronic ordering and our workflow was immediately thrown into chaos.
As a family physician, I have learned that digital health transitions provide us with an opportunity to not just digitize our processes, but to, more importantly, evaluate and improve our underlying culture. Thus, I believe a successful digital health transition must be able to transform the underlying culture. Digital health solutions today provide us with a rudimentary quilt of various partially integrated solutions that allow us to do some, but not all, of the functionality we require to be effective digital healthcare providers. I would contend that the most effective digital solutions are those that enhance, rather that detract, from the patient-doctor relationship.
Most importantly, we must look to digital solutions to allow us to solve problems dynamically. A few days ago, I was reflecting on how the problems I see are sometimes due to medical illnesses, sometimes due to social determinants of health, and other times due to access to, or awareness of, community services. Imagine an e-referral network where we could simultaneously search for an endocrinologist, Meals on Wheels or assisted living. That to me is a holistic solution to upstream care that doesn’t involve huge investment, but just requires making the current solutions more readily available to providers.
One thing is clear to me – this transition will not happen successfully without the intentional inclusion and empowerment of patients, caregivers and families. Google would never design a new product without considering the user experience, and we, as healthcare providers and leaders, need to focus on the patient journey from diagnosis until end of life. We don’t need many tools, but they need to be employed in a thoughtful way. Technology has the ability to help us deliver the best care, at the right time, by the right provider, through the right means.