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Digital Health Myths

Digital health is transforming the way Canadians access health care as more and more are able to view their personal health history online, connect with their care provider through a virtual setting, and e-book medical appointments. It has also changed workflows for clinicians who are able to pull up information about their patients as needed and whose patients may now be able to also access their health information. This has created some uncertainty and concerns — not always based on the facts — about what digital health means for Canadians as well as clinicians. We set out to dispel some of these myths.

Myth: Online mental health support is impersonal and ineffective so Canadians aren’t interested in using it.

Fact: In a 2019 study, 58% of Canadians said they were interested in using e-mental health tools.

While mental health issues affect people of all ages, incomes, education levels and cultures, digital solutions can help reduce stigma and make it easier for people to get support. In fact, sites such as Bridgethegapp.ca and Foundrybc.ca have links to various e-mental health tools. In addition to providing support and guidance best suited to their needs, some e-mental health tools connect people to support networks and others with lived experience.

Source: Access to Digital Health Services: 2019 Survey of Canadians Summary Report, Canada Health Infoway.

Myth: Canadians don't have online access to their health information.

Fact: In 2019, most Canadians could access their personal health information electronically — a significant increase from 2015. Provincial and regional portals are now available for all citizens in Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as many in Ontario and British Columbia. Many Canadians in British Columbia and Ontario have also been accessing their lab results through lab service providers.

Source: 2018-2019 Annual Report, Canada Health Infoway.

Myth: Canadians aren’t comfortable with their health information being shared electronically between doctors and other health care professionals that care for them.

Fact: A 2017 study indicated 85% of Canadians agree that doctors and other health care professionals require timely and easy access to patients' health information so they can provide high quality care. Sharing health information electronically through digital health allows for more timely access to information, which enables Canadians to receive better quality care, more efficiently. Electronic health records (EHRs) allow doctors to see patients’ complete health information, saving time and reducing the need to order duplicate tests. In fact, 77% of Canadians reported they are comfortable with their health information being shared through EHR systems with providers on their care team.

Source: : 'What Canadians Think’: Canadians’ Perspectives on Privacy of Personal Health Information in the Context of Digital Health — Final Report, March 2017.

Myth: Canada isn’t making any progress with virtual care.

Fact: In 2018 alone, there were 1 million telehealth video consultations between patients and clinicians in Canada, an increase of more than 500 per cent since 2010. Options for virtual care are also gradually expanding across the country, with 4% of Canadians reporting they have had a virtual video visit and 7% reporting they have emailed with their physician. The use of technologies which allow for virtual consultations between patients and clinicians has helped patients living in rural and remote communities avoid over 280 million kilometres of travel representing over $420 million in avoided costs and over 75 million tons of CO2 in avoided emissions.

Source: 2018-2019 Annual Report, Canada Health Infoway. Access to Digital Health Services: 2019 Survey of Canadians Summary Report, Canada Health Infoway. See also: http://bit.ly/1Bht7y7 .

Myth: I won’t understand my lab results if I access them online because they are too complicated.

Fact: In a study, 76% of patients who first saw their lab results online were confident they understood the results.

The study also showed patients who view their results online are no more anxious than those who don’t. In fact, people with chronic conditions are less anxious when they get their results online. Timely access to lab test results is an important part of patient engagement and empowerment, which are directly linked to improved chronic disease management.

Source: Mák G, Smith Fowler H, Leaver C, Hagens S, Zelmer J, “The Effects of Web-Based Patient Access to Laboratory Results in British Columbia: A Patient Survey on Comprehension and Anxiety,” J Med Internet Res 2015;17(8):e191 DOI: 10.2196/jmir.4350

Myth: The quality of care offered in a virtual visit is not as good as the care in a face-to-face visit.

Fact: While in-person visits are essential in some cases, there are many scenarios in which virtual visits can provide the same standard of care. A BC study found 79% of patients who had a virtual visit said the quality of care was the same as in an in-person visit. 91% said the online visit helped them with the health issue for which they needed the appointment.

Source: Virtual Visits in British Columbia: 2015 Patients Survey and Physician Interview Study

Myth: Digital health will marginalize populations who may not have online access.

Fact: Canada is one of the most connected nations in the world and 90% of Canadians have Internet access. Additionally, many Canadians face barriers to accessing care — and virtual care helps reduce those barriers.

Digital health can also reduce marginalization for people living in remote communities or with mobility issues. For example, some Canadian initiatives and programs support access to certain populations by providing smartphones or remote monitoring equipment to participants.

Source: 2018 Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) Factbook, http://bit.ly/2MZR1Pp. For more information, see: http://bit.ly/2lsEVgR, http://bit.ly/2mmhslE and http://bit.ly/2MGCCJq.

Myth: Digital health is only for the young and tech savvy.

Fact: Canadians are very connected, including seniors. 90% of Canadian households have Internet access and 74% of Canadians over 55 years old own a smartphone or tablet.

Digital health also offers important opportunities for advancing care for seniors through programs such as telehomecare. Telehomecare can help seniors with chronic conditions improve their quality of life and reduce the number of ED visits and hospital stays they may have.

Source: Diffusion of Smart Devices for Health in Canada — Final Report, September 2017. 2018 Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) Factbook, http://bit.ly/2MZR1Pp. See also: http://bit.ly/2MZyDpX.

Myth: If patients are able to view lab test results online before talking to their doctors, they will be overly anxious.

Fact: Patients who view their results online are no more anxious than those who wait to learn about them in person. A study showed 93% of patients who accessed their lab results online said they had more informed discussions with their doctor. Additionally, patients with one or more chronic conditions were less likely to report being anxious.

Source: Mák G, Smith Fowler H, Leaver C, Hagens S, Zelmer J, “The Effects of Web-Based Patient Access to Laboratory Results in British Columbia: A Patient Survey on Comprehension and Anxiety,” J Med Internet Res 2015;17(8):e191 DOI: 10.2196/jmir.4350

Myth: Doctors will be flooded with calls if patients have access to their lab results online.

Fact: Patients who have access to their lab results online are less likely to call their physicians while waiting for results and they’re less likely to have an in-person visit related to their results. Additionally, patients who have access to their health information through a patient portal are less likely to call or make requests for information, with one Ontario study finding a 61% decrease in requests for information when a patient portal became available.

Source: Impacts of direct patient access to laboratory results – Final Report, August 2015, SRDC. Ontario Shores’ HealthCheck Patient Portal Benefits Evaluation Report, 2016. See also: Group Health Centre’s myCARE Benefits Evaluation Plan, 2016.

Myth: Patients don’t want to see their health information and won’t find the information useful.

Fact: Currently, 79% of Canadians say they can access or would like access to their health information online.

Furthermore, Canadians who do have access find it beneficial. In one study, 94% of patients who use portals said they valued viewing their health information online. In another study, 74% of Canadians with access to digitally-enabled health services say it helps them have more informed discussions with their doctor.

Source: Connecting Patients for Better Health: 2018. myCARE Benefits Evaluation and Final Report, Group Health Centre, 2016.

Myth: Digital health is just for health care providers.

Fact: 50% of Canadians now report they can access at least one health service online, such as viewing their health information, making an appointment with a physician and consulting with a health care provider.

Providing patients with timely access to their health information is an important part of patient engagement and empowerment, which are linked to improved chronic disease management. In fact, engaged patients use less urgent and after hour services.

Source: 2018-2019 Annual Report, Canada Health Infoway. 2019 Annual Tracking Survey, Canada Health Infoway. See also: http://bit.ly/2n4PRpZ and http://bit.ly/2MUORAK.

Myth: There has been little to no progress in digital health in Canada.

Fact: 86% of family physicians in Canada were using an electronic medical record (EMR) in 2017, up from 39% in 2009.

An estimated 330,000 health care professionals are users of connected health information across all provinces and territories. At least seven in 10 Canadians can access some portion of their record now, up from two in 10 at this point in 2015.

Source: Connected Health Information in Canada: A Benefits Evaluation Study. CMA Physician Workforce Survey, http://bit.ly/2YMhTcT. See also: http://bit.ly/32EKGOI.

Myth: The government and insurance companies will be able to see my digital health records.

Fact: All provinces and territories in Canada have laws that protect the confidentiality of your personal health information. Governments and insurance companies do not have access to the identifiable information in your digital health records. There are only certain circumstances (lawful purposes) such as public health situations or when you have provided consent, when your identifiable data may be disclosed to them.

For more information, see: http://bit.ly/2YM4WQu

Myth: Canada has spent billions of dollars on digital health with nothing to show for it.

Fact: Infoway estimates that more than $30 billion in benefits have accrued from digital health solutions since 2007. These benefits include avoided expenses, such as travel, for patients and their families, increased productivity for clinicians through access to digital tools, such as lab information systems, and increased value to the health system, such as avoided ER visits.

Source: 2018-2019 Annual Report, Canada Health Infoway.

Myth: I don’t have a right to access my health record.

Fact: Your health care provider is the custodian (trustee) of your health record and is responsible for proper use and management of the record. However, the information in the record is yours and you have a right to access it. In fact, 36% of Canadians asked for their information, with seniors being the most likely to ask. You can access it through a formal request process, as outlined in law, but many custodians are pleased to share the information if you ask to see it and, in fact, many custodians are creating online portals or personal health record systems that patients can access whenever they wish.

Source: Connecting Patients for Better Health: 2018. For more information, see http://bit.ly/1d1eyd5 and http://bit.ly/2YM4WQu.

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