The advancements in digital and virtual health are increasing at an exponential rate within healthcare internationally. I believe whether we are comfortable with the idea or not, the time has arrived to start embracing technology. Its use is beginning to advance and transform healthcare faster than perhaps we can keep up with at times. Some have remarked these advancements are permanently changing healthcare delivery as we know it. Why is this happening? How do these changes impact healthcare settings? What does it mean for healthcare providers? What does it mean for patients?
I have the privilege to be part of the team at Ontario Shores, an organization which is committed to the provision of exemplary mental health care and which has recently been recognized for the use of technology to enhance quality of care and patient safety.
Working in an environment where technology continues to grow and becomes further integrated into day-to-day practice, has driven me to reflect on the above questions often and I am starting to define the answers, at least locally at Ontario Shores. I believe we are reaching a point in healthcare, if we have not yet done so, where incorporating technology in care is no longer just an option but an expectation from service users and providers. This transformation has the capacity to advance quality and safety in care, increase accessibility, reduce costs, increase patient choice, enhance patient self-care and improve the overall experience for patients and their families.
It has been predicted that by 2020, 25% of care will be delivered virtually with providers and patients in separate places (Dr. Ed Brown, 2012), realizing the notion of ‘healthcare without borders’. A recent study on the state of virtual care in Canada says: “as services in nearly every aspect of daily life becomes digitized, Canadians are demanding greater access to their information and more personalized experiences” (PWC, 2014). In the study Canadians identified three key things they want: to engage proactively in their health, to gain easier access to services, and to exert more control over their care (2014).
To go back to my initial questions – what does this mean to everyone? Providers will need to refine their workflow and tailor their practice to meet these emerging changes. They will need to redefine their practice and become comfortable in this new way of delivering care. Healthcare organizations need to make health technology a priority and create infrastructures to meet these new demands. Embracing and pushing forward with this innovation in care delivery will require excellent leadership, vision and commitment at all levels of the organization. Patients will need to increase advocacy for virtual care as a choice in their care delivery and expect to be better engaged in their treatments.
Knowing the benefits and the demands, it seems quite common sense to move in this direction, but we are definitely not there yet. My world is quite connected in the sense that I can do my banking, buy groceries, shop, and connect with others around the globe at anytime, anywhere virtually, but I still have to leave several telephone messages for my provider in order to book an appointment for a health check-up and wait for weeks before seeing them. It is time for healthcare to revolutionize healthcare delivery and move forward with the rest of the world.