Digital connectivity and collaboration in primary care.

The healthcare industry’s digital awakening has been led by legacy players, tech giants and youthful start-ups alike. While each organization is unique, its shared purpose is a desire to reduce fragmentation, fold siloes and engage in an integrated health network that truly serves the needs of consumers and patients. In fact, the digitization of healthcare is a business imperative as much as a strategic one. In 2015, Canada’s healthcare IT market was worth $3.5 billion (USD), a number that is expected to grow to $6.5 billion (USD) by 2021. Simply put, the world is far too interconnected to continue a go-at-it-alone approach, and healthcare is no exception.

To truly transform healthcare, we – as a healthcare community – must meaningfully engage in:

  • Connectivity: reliable, secure and accurate information exchange allowing healthcare stakeholders to effectively communicate within the health ecosystem
  • Collaboration: a platform that enables healthcare providers to work and learn together, ultimately coordinating better care for its patients

These themes are integral to TELUS Health’s mission of boldly delivering on the healthcare promises that contribute to better patient experiences and ultimately lead to better health outcomes.

Advancing the delivery of care

In 2018, Canada Health Infoway surveyed 1,400 primary care physicians and specialists to understand how they leverage digital health technologies. They found:

  • 84% of respondents have access to connected health information from care settings outside of their main practice, of which 80% were lab and diagnostic imaging results
  • The more connected the EMR is to a network of healthcare information, the more useful the data; in fact, 60% of primary care physicians using 6-9 EMR functionalities are satisfied with the regional systems they use to access patient information from outside their practice, compared to 45% who use 1-2 functionalities

In addition, Accenture research found that 90% of healthcare executives say it’s important to engage with digital partners across the various points of care.

The need for unified healthcare

The need is apparent, but what does connectivity and collaboration look like beyond clinician access to lab results and CT scans?

“It’s when physicians, pharmacists, patients and payers convene to create a network that delivers services such as electronic prescribing, online booking, electronic claims, e-referrals, and so much more,” says Sanjay Cherian, Vice President, Product & Strategy, TELUS Health. “Connectivity enables collaboration and once employed, the impact for the patient and the broader system can be significant.”

Let’s envision how this connectivity could ideally take shape:

  • A patient with a wearable and medical monitoring app makes data accessible to his family physician and care team
  • The patient receives an arrhythmia warning via the wearable and his doctor recommends a cardiologist visit
  • The cardiologist can access the patient’s medical records via a centralized PHR and makes a diagnosis leveraging wearable data and medical history
  • The cardiologist also consults the patient’s pharmacogenomic data to write a mindful prescription
  • The patient receives an e-prescription and is asked to have blood work done
  • Blood work results are uploaded to the PHR and reviewed by the family physician
  • With the patient’s consent, his health data is anonymized and pooled to foster a network of knowledge that would be used to improve health outcomes and treatment practices for other Canadians

“This illustration of a connected and collaborative ecosystem creates an opportunity for innovators and partners to deliver new ideas and technologies, and make them easily and quickly accessible to any physician, pharmacist or allied health professional connected to our TELUS Health Exchange. This greatly increases the value of the overall network and the transactional volume that flows through it,” says Sanjay. “It’s time to seize the opportunity to be transformative, and take this interoperability from aspirational to attainable.”

While TELUS Health is an advocate of this shift, true connectivity requires the commitment of medical professionals and healthcare administrators across the spectrum with all parties working to advance the processes and procedures that encourage integration across the ecosystem. Together, members of the healthcare community can leverage the emergence of digitization to establish a plaited system and advance the delivery of care in this country overall.

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