(ED: Simon really puts Digital Health in perspective.  It is not just about new gadgets, apps, systems, but about how people leverage those tools, including EHRs)


Simon P. Ip*
Health Communication Specialist

February 14, 2013 

With a population of 35 millions spread across the second largest country in the world, it comes as no surprise that Canadians ranked as the world’s most intensive Internet users. For the last decade, we have embraced new technologies with open arms. We can now manage with ease most of our daily activities online with a simple tap of the finger (e.g. searching information, managing our finances, booking a flight and connecting with others). Surprisingly, advancements of digital health in Canada have not caught up to today’s technology standards, and that
is not from a lack of trying. So what can we do to promote the advancement of health innovations in Canada? Digital health is more than the mere combination of health and technology; it is a collaborative effort between health specialists, technology experts and patients to create health solutions for everyone.
The explosive wave of technologies has allowed us to become experts in creating data. Most people do not even realize that we leave digital footprints everywhere we go (e.g. by sending messages from our mobile phone, checking in on our social media and browsing the web via Google searches). This wealth of information has given the public a strong voice that has a direct impact on business, philanthropy and politics. Similarly, crowd-sourced health information empowers people by connecting the world health community in real time. For those constantly fearing the next pandemic, uses data from tens of thousands of different sources every hour to inform us of disease trends. The data collected from Canadian’s Hacking Health does not necessarily involve tracking down diseases but instead, it uses the collaborative brain power of medicine and technology to find solutions to current health issues. Last fall, the 48-hour Toronto “Hackaton” hosted at the MaRS building attracted more than 300 physicians and IT experts ready to push the envelope of digital health. The big game changer in digital health remains the long overdue standardization of electronic medical records. Dr. David Chan, a family doctor working at the Stonechurch Family Health Centre in Hamilton, understands the important impact of digitizing medicine. With a background in engineering, Dr. David Chan helped invent a patient file database called Open Source Clinical Applications and Resources or simply referred to as OSCAR. OSCAR’s addition to the team allows doctors to give precise and efficient consultation to their patients in seconds. Collaborations between individuals and cutting-edge technology are vital in the development of digital health. These partnerships help deliver health information and services to patients in a more efficient way.
The provincial and federal governments recognized the benefits of e-health in improving communications and driving new efficiencies. With 80% of our health care money allocated to chronic illnesses and with a grey tsunami approaching, Canada hopes that investing in health information technology will reduce the cost of our $200 billion annual Medicare bill. From the recent booming health innovations (e.g. in medical mobile apps, cutting edge biomechanics and 3D printing of human tissues), technology applied to health has become a new model of business. Private contributors have shown a lot of eagerness to push traditional medicine into the realm of science fiction. The X PRIZE Foundation in collaboration with Qualcomm is offering a lavish incentive of $10 million to the creator of a Tricorder X PRIZE, a Star Trek inspired mobile device that can diagnose patients better to the capabilities of medical specialists. Despite the emerging trending interest, the discussion of a partnership between information technology and Canadian health care brings us back all the way to 2001. With the provincial and federal governments’ agreement to digitize health, Canada Health Infoway received the Herculean task of developing an electronic health record for 50% of Canadians by the end of 2010. After a decade of work and with $2.1 billion accumulated grants from Ottawa, the development of digital health in Canada does not seem to have taken off. Despite the copious money invested by Ottawa and private investors to lead the health care system to a digital revolution, one of the main challenges dwells in the shortage of e-health policies protecting patients.
Technology allows for efficient and cheap communications between healthcare professionals and patients. However, by relying heavily on technology, we run the risk of viewing our interaction with patients as simple data transactions. Today’s medicine shows a lot of enthusiasm in entering the digital world, but emerging technologies will lead to a cascade of patients’ privacy issues. Similarly to the Genetic Information of Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) in the States that took 12 years of congressional resistance before being enacted, what kind of action will we need to take to protect patients’ health information from fraud and discrimination? Besides lingering discussion on privacy issues, the Internet did experience great success stories in digital health by connecting people. Thanks to websites such as and, communities of patients, caregivers and health professionals can find support and share their experiences remotely. The challenge of digital health is not simply a question of technological advancements but mostly one of humanism using technology. By providing cutting-edge patient-centric treatments, digital health will succeed into offering high caliber treatments that will transform patients’ lives.
With the extensive amount of data created continuously, health specialists find strength in sharing their knowledge online. Naturally, with the accessibility of smart phones (and geolocation applications), the trend of connecting remotely will continue to expand with the goal of bringing patients and health communities closer together. Keeping up with the innovation of information technology plays an essential role in expanding e-health, but besides impressive new technologies that can reach a global audience; we need to remember that digital health’s main goal is to deliver health services to improve the quality of life of patients. To advance digital health in Canada, the provincial and federal governments need to focus on three types of people: individuals that create data, the panel of experts coming up with creative solutions and patients who represent the vital essence of medicine.

Bio: Simon is a Health Communication Specialist that disseminates current health information to a general audience. He is currently responsible for the digital marketing of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada. For more on global health and health promotion, follow him on Twitter @simphilip.

Related Research

A Call for Collaborative Leadership: Implementing Information and Communications Technologies in Canadian Health Systems


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