In my last post I talked about how Greg was an innovative thinker who loved to challenge the status quo. What I love about digital health tools is not that they are amazing innovations or extraordinary technological feats of genius but that they have real potential to challenge the status quo. There are tools in use today that are having a positive impact in the system but in order to prevent the failures that Greg (and others) have experienced everyone must fully embrace the current opportunities associated with digital health.
So what exactly is digital health?
Canada Health Infoway defines digital health as:
The use of information technology/electronic communication tools, services and processes to deliver health care services or to facilitate better health.
I also like this definition from Australian company, Semantic Consulting:
Digital Health is a disruptive and transformational approach to the delivery of healthcare, with a focus on engaging and empowering patients, activating caregiver networks and understanding that patients are increasingly behaving as consumers of healthcare. Digital Health provides us with a toolbox of technologies and techniques that support the development of new, innovative patient and caregiver-centred models of care, driving improved engagement, accessibility, quality, safety, efficiency and sustainability into all corners of the health system.
There are many ways digital health tools could have had a positive impact on Greg’s health journey and in this post I am going to focus on one example – eReferrals.
There were several points in Greg’s care where failures in the referral process caused a break in Greg’s continuity of care. For more detail see the timeline on our site or the HQCA Continuity of Patient Care report but here are a couple examples:
- Greg delivered a paper referral to a general surgeon’s office without a process in place to share information on timelines or confirm receipt of the referral. Greg was not contacted for 94 days.
- After a CT scan the radiology report was sent to a doctor who had left the clinic. The urgent report was not reviewed until Greg called the clinic himself a week after his CT scan.
- A referral was sent to a urologist who was on extended vacation. The referral was faxed and there was no process in place to notify the referring clinic that the urologist was out of the office. Greg discovered this himself when he called the urologist’s office 9 days later and heard the out-of-office message.
E-Referral tools could have closed these gaps.
- You raise a health concern with your family doctor and together you decide that you should seek the advice of the specialist.
- Your doctor utilizes an eReferral system to fill out the information that the specialist requires and electronically send a request for consultation.
- The system will notify your family doctor if the specialist is available, how long the waitlist is and when the specialist (or the specialist’s team) has reviewed the request.
- The specialist’s team selects options for the next available appointment time, which are sent to you via text message or email.
- You select the appointment time that works best for you and confirm.
- Both your family doctor and the specialist’s team receive notification that your appointment has been booked. Each step of the way is tracked and recorded.
Sound OK? Tools like this exist today and yet the system still relies on fax machines.
When I think about Greg’s experience as a patient the number of preventable failures still baffles me. The way he was treated is disheartening and scary. We often hear that healthcare is complicated but for Greg the system broke down in very simple ways. Digital health can and could have closed gaps in Greg’s care in vital ways. As patients, we must demand better communication and accountability from our healthcare providers.