Digital Medicine is not just about access—it’s also about quality care

 

Early in 2011, Greg Price saw his doctor for a routine physical, where a small testicular mass was discovered. Fifty-nine weeks after that first appointment and a series of gaps in communication later, Greg died as a result of complications from surgery to remove a cancerous testicle. He was 31.

Could better access to his own health information have saved Greg’s life?

It’s our job to push for well-designed systems and forward-thinking standards to improve patient care, as well as advocate for enhanced training at a learner level so new physicians know how to use this technology effectively.

There’s no way to know for sure, but better access to his health information may have given Greg the tools to follow up on his own care sooner and faster, and changed his outcome. Digital Medicine, and all the complex technologies and tools associated with it, have the potential to help a lot of people, now and in the future. If used properly, it can democratize health care—giving people equal access to potentially life-saving information, resources, guidance and ultimately, quality care.

Understandably, patients have a big appetite for it. Technology has eased almost all of our daily interactions: we tap to pay for purchases, order coffee and buy stocks through apps, all on our smartphones. Why shouldn’t we be able to access a physician consult or our own health information on our phones?

Digital Medicine has actually been around for more than 25 years. Today, the majority of physicians use digital charts and more traditional means of telehealth like phone or email. However, many are actively engaging in the next level of digital tools by contributing to healthcare forums like patient.info and offering virtual consults on apps such as Babylon or Maple.

Over the next few years, the public will see significant changes in this field. For patients to get the most benefit out of these tools, regulators can’t be a barrier to digital health. But we do have to keep patient safety at the forefront.

We need to ensure that even in the digital world, patients are getting safe, quality care from competent, ethical practitioners. While it is the government’s and private sector’s job to build out the tools that will allow for more digital health options, it’s our job to push for well-designed systems and forward-thinking standards to improve patient care, as well as to advocate for enhanced training at a learner level, so new physicians know how to use this technology effectively. Digital health tools can enhance communication and the sharing of information, but it’s critical that patients get the same quality care in the digital environment that they would sitting in front of their doctor.

It’s a tough balance to achieve, but we’ve been working with our colleagues throughout Canada and looking at global research to find the right solution. In 2018, we initiated conversations with other Canadian regulators to streamline licensing and reduce regulatory barriers to accessing health care in the digital sphere. Some of the things we’re considering are a pan-Canadian standard on telemedicine, so every physician across the country is held to the same standard, no matter where they work. In the digital sphere, patients are consulting with physicians in other provinces and to uphold our standards, we need to reduce barriers for physicians to provide digital care. This year, we started exploring the possibility of creating portable licences that would allow doctors to perform a third of their work for patients in other provinces, or even expediting licence agreements for physicians in good standing. As the world goes more and more digital, medicine must follow suit if we want to continue providing the level of care our patients expect and deserve.