Canadians want online tools to access healthcare records

Most Canadians seek a greater role in managing their own healthcare and want online tools to help them do that, according to a recent study by The Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions.

The Centre’s 2009 Canadian Healthcare Consumer Survey Report is based on a national poll of 2,304 Canadian adults conducted in November 2008.

It indicates Canadians favour an approach that allows them to collaborate with their healthcare providers, according to Mark Fam, senior manager for Deloitte National Health Services.

“There appears to be this swing from a patient to a consumer orientation,” Fam said. “It will have far-reaching implications for all stakeholders and place new demands on the health system.”

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The survey found that:

  • More than half (51 per cent) of Canadians want access to a secure Internet site that enables them to schedule office visits, access medical records, view test results, order prescriptions, check billing status, and find treatment options
  • As many as 61 per cent want their personal health records to be given to them by doctors or the government. Some 66 per cent would also like access to a family member’s health records.
  • Around 58 per cent want online tools — such as risk assessment questionnaires and health diaries — to monitor and manage their health
  • Privacy concerns about online storage of health information are a top concern for 54 per cent of Canadians, who seek better safeguards for their health records
  • 49 per cent said they want to be able to contact their doctor via e-mail for health related questions

The survey results reveal that Canadians want greater ownership of their own healthcare, Fam noted.

In a sense, they’re adopting a consumer approach to healthcare delivery. “The three main things they [want] are access, convenience and personalization.”

The current patient mindset goes beyond mere implementation of technology, the Deloitte manager said.

“For instance, it’s not just about transferring data from paper to electronic records.” To patients, it also means shifting responsibility and ownership of their information to them.

The trend bodes well for many Canadian companies in the healthcare industry, he said. In particular, it opens up opportunities for companies developing remote monitoring devices, as well as online health record management and storage systems.

“Cash flow and ROI are still not easy to quantify, but certainly people will push for these tools and strategies,” said Mike Matthews, national e-health leader at Deloitte.

He said the trend has driven the development of monitoring devices that enable diabetes patients to measure their own sugar levels and then transmit these findings to their physician with a smartphone.

There have also been pilot projects for automated prescription dispensing kiosks.

Businesses are eager to develop the tools that Canadian healthcare consumers want, but there are still some hurdles, Matthews noted. “Companies haven’t yet figured out the business model for these things. Questions such as who will foot the bill remain unanswered.”

For instance, he said, the government has made great headway in setting up the Canada Health Infoway, the national agency tasked with creating a unified e-heath record system by 2009, but financial issues continue to slow down the e-health initiative.

“Infoway has created a firm infrastructure, but issues like who will pay physicians to opt into an e-health record system still remain.”

The Deloitte survey also touched on pay-for-use services and private hospitals.

Most Canadians still favour the existing public healthcare system.

Almost a third (32 per cent) said they oppose allowing people to pay a premium to access health services more quickly. About 35 per cent oppose allowing private for-profit hospitals into the healthcare system, if they are paid through private insurance or mean the patient incurs an out-of-pocket expense.

Canadians are moving “cautiously with private care options” said Fam.

“They are willing to entertain increased costs for specialized services or enhanced private care if the current healthcare system is maintained and not [affected].”

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