Is the Future of Canadian Healthcare Closer Than We Think?

Simply by using our phones, Canadians can buy a movie ticket, monitor their home security, do their banking, buy and sell stocks, etc.—but while the future seemingly arrived in almost every industry and aspect of our lives, we continue to wait for the future of Canadian healthcare.

Appointments are still made by phone, doctors are still bound to paper and clipboards, and, as patients, we remain largely uninformed about our health and passive in our own care. But might a new healthcare model closer than we think?

As the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), known to most as ObamaCare, continues its roll out in the US, Canada’s federal government has also been busy, making a string of recent investments in e-health technologies that benefit Canadians through improvements in patient access to service, the quality of healthcare and the efficiency of the system.

Currently underway in Ontario, for instance, is the federally funded Connected Health and Wellness Project (CHWP), a new initiative that will allow patients to access and share their health records with their family, friends and care teams—including a certified health coach—to collaboratively manage their health and wellness.

Imagine being able to easily access your children’s immunization records through your mobile device or desktop and imagine being able to share that information with anyone you trust to support your child’s health and wellbeing. Imagine being diabetic and having specific health tools to monitor your blood sugar and being able to instantly relay that information to your healthcare provider, while at the same time receiving expert advice and support on proper nutrition, exercise and managing stress from a professional health coach. Finally, imagine being able to schedule your parents’ medical appointments on-line and fill out forms before they arrive at the hospital or doctor’s office, and then manage their home care online.

Led by York University, NexJ Systems, and McMaster University, the CHWP is a unique collaboration of 18 academic, healthcare, and industry partners who share a single compelling vision that puts people at the centre of managing their health and wellness. People-centered health is simply about giving individuals the tools they need to take more responsibility for their own health—enabling each and every individual to be as well as they can be.

It is a game-changing concept that is being realized thanks to advances in technology which make access to health information immediate, convenient, and efficient, and permit self-directed collaboration. The goal: to keep more of us, healthier, longer. When people can access their personal health information, they can be better informed as to their actual condition, educated on the alternative treatments available, and ultimately responsible for the decisions they make about their own health and wellness.

The CHWP links patients and their families with hospitals, physicians and other healthcare professionals to improve health and wellness. When integrated with a doctor’s EMR system such as McMaster’s OSCAR, individuals can easily access a copy of their health information from their smartphone, tablet, or desktop. The individual can decide who has access to that information, whether that is a family member, an advocate, or a healthcare professional such as a doctor or a personal health coach.

This is facilitated by NexJ Connected Wellness, a cloud-based platform and McMaster’s MyOSCAR, an open source personal health record. Using the platform individuals can message their care team, complete surveys and assessments and book medical appointments online. Private social networking features can be leveraged to encourage healthy behavior.

This technology can also be used to improve support for patients during transitions in care such as post-discharge or between office visits. Through the creation of lay language, personal care plans, doctors can improve provider-patient communications and keep patients informed about their condition, what treatments have happened to date, what is expected next, and what to do in case of adverse events. Patients can share their care plan with anyone supporting them in their health and wellness such as family, friends, advocates and other care providers.

Another crucial component for the success of health and healthcare 2.0 is personal health coaching, an effective solution designed to help people better manage their chronic conditions and meet their health and wellness goals. Using the NexJ Health Coach app on their smartphone or tablet, people can track their diet and exercise and record their biometrics such as weight, blood glucose, and blood pressure. The health coach shows each patient the relationship between their behaviors, their biometric results, how they feel, and their wellness.

This helps people to develop the motivation and encouragement they need to sustain the behavior changes necessary to be well, such as being physically and mentally active, taking medications as prescribed, and eating healthier food in appropriate sized portions. This is really the step beyond just getting access to your health information—it is what you do with it that represents a new approach to wellness and healthcare.

A health coach could be a nurse, a dietitian or an exercise physiologist, whoever is the most appropriate person. To that end, York University is developing a new training program, curriculum and professional standards for the emerging Health Coach profession that integrates mobile technology and expert advice – the first of its kind in Canada.

With the support of the Government of Canada’s Economic Action Plan through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, this $38 million initiative is creating jobs and a new health-economy while giving people and communities the tools to manage their own health and wellness and more easily connect with health professionals.

While collaborative wellness and healthcare is the future, just how close is it to becoming a reality for all Canadians? As the CHWP experience has shown us, leadership will not come from governments and institutions alone. It will take the combined muscle of government, the private sector, academic institutions, healthcare and public health leaders, and the commitment of many individuals to have this vision realized nationwide.

This article was written by Harvey Skinner, Dean of the Faculty of Health at York University; William Tatham, CEO of NexJ Systems; and Dr. David Price, Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University.