Quebec’s digital health gap

Quebec’s fast-growing healthcare spend continues to be a target for deficit reduction. But reforms have so far overlooked one way to cut costs and generate better health outcomes: the digitization of healthcare.

You can’t open a newspaper in Quebec right now without diving into the healthcare reform debate. Will amalgamation save money and help cut the deficit? Will bigger patient rosters for doctors improve care? Will reforms result in better health?

With Quebecers split on these issues, only time will tell.

In the meantime, it seems there’s one thing Quebecers agree on — in a recent CROP survey commissioned by TELUS Health and Diabetes Quebec, patients and healthcare practitioners alike see the need for, and the promise of, digital healthcare.

Patients want digital interaction with doctors

The same survey revealed that Quebec patients are happy with the quality of care they receive, but are disappointed with the efficiency of the system. The gap can be jarring, a car’s digital maintenance record at the mechanic’s shop is often more complete and accessible than a medical health record.

Inefficient paper-based processes and our attachment to in-person appointments are two factors hindering our access to the care we need. Most patients (between 67 per cent and 78 per cent) want to be able to:

  • Book appointments online;
  • Receive advice and review lab results via email; and
  • Create a personal electronic health file to be more in control of our health.

More than ever, patients want, and expect, the digital convenience we can already get with banks, travel, and e-commerce in general. But are Quebec practitioners ready to offer digital health? And on a larger scale, are Canadians?

Caregivers want EMRs and connectivity

Quebec is behind some other provinces when it comes to health IT adoption; in fact, it was one of the last provinces to implement an incentive or funding program in 2013.

However, the study shows that the desire is there, with 42 per cent Quebec practitioners the most likely in Canada to implement electronic medical records (EMRs) over the next few years.

While many healthcare providers fear that going digital is a costly and daunting task, it’s hard to argue with the cost savings and care improvements that have followed quickly on the heels of digital reform in other provinces and countries.

Digital patient files lead to better office workflow and online communication reduces non-critical visits; but when clinics, hospitals, labs and pharmacies connect and collaborate electronically, change really starts to accelerate.

A popular cost-cutting reform

Patients want it. Doctors want it. And because digital health is proven to lower costs and improve health, the government should consider it as part of its solution mix.

Are our incentives for health IT adoption strong enough? Should we set standards and non-compliance penalties for care access and outcomes, as other countries have successfully done?

Technology cannot fix all the problems in the Canadian healthcare system, but it’s certainly a part of the solution and very necessary to the survival of the universal model as we know it.

What has been your experience with digital health records? How have they helped you or your family? We’d love to hear your comments below.

Hélène Chartier is the head of strategy, marketing and communications at TELUS Health