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Hot Topics in Health Innovation Policy

Digital Health: More than Just Health and Technology

February 14, 2013
Simon Ip Simon P. Ip*
E-Marketing Coordinator
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

*Contributors are responsible for the industry views and opinions related to their area of expertise presented in their blog submissions. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of The Conference Board of Canada.

With a population of 35 millions spread across the second largest country in the world, it comes as no surprise that Canadians ranked as the world’s most intensive Internet users. For the last decade, we have embraced new technologies with open arms. We can now manage with ease most of our daily activities online with a simple tap of the finger (e.g. searching information, managing our finances, booking a flight and connecting with others). Surprisingly, advancements of digital health in Canada have not caught up to today’s technology standards, and that is not from a lack of trying. So what can we do to promote the advancement of health innovations in Canada? Digital health is more than the mere combination of health and technology; it is a collaborative effort between health specialists, technology experts and patients to create health solutions for everyone.

The explosive wave of technologies has allowed us to become experts in creating data. Most people do not even realize that we leave digital footprints everywhere we go (e.g. by sending messages from our mobile phone, checking in on our social media and browsing the web via Google searches). This wealth of information has given the public a strong voice that has a direct impact on business, philanthropy and politics. Similarly, crowd-sourced health information empowers people by connecting the world health community in real time. For those constantly fearing the next pandemic, Healthmap.org uses data from tens of thousands of different sources every hour to inform us of disease trends. The data collected from Canadian’s Hacking Health does not necessarily involve tracking down diseases but instead, it uses the collaborative brain power of medicine and technology to find solutions to current health issues. Last fall, the 48-hour Toronto “Hackathon” hosted at the MaRS building attracted more than 300 physicians and IT experts ready to push the envelope of digital health. The big game changer in digital health remains the long overdue standardization of electronic medical records. Collaborations between individuals and cutting-edge technology are vital in the development of digital health. These partnerships help deliver health information and services to patients in a more efficient way.

Provincial and federal governments recognize the benefits of e-health in improving communications and driving new efficiencies. With a grey tsunami approaching and 80 per cent of our health care money allocated to chronic illnesses, Canada hopes that investing in health information technology will reduce the cost of our $200 billion annual Medicare bill. The Internet has experienced great success stories in digital health by connecting people. Thanks to websites such as patientslikeme.com and lotsahelpinghands.com, communities of patients, caregivers and health professionals can find support and share their experiences remotely. The challenge of digital health is not simply a question of technological advancements but mostly one of humanism using technology. By providing cutting-edge patient-centric treatments, digital health will succeed into offering high caliber treatments that will transform patients’ lives.

With the extensive amount of data created continuously, health specialists find strength in sharing their knowledge online. Naturally, with the accessibility of smart phones (and geolocation applications), the trend of connecting remotely will continue to expand with the goal of bringing patients and health communities closer together. Keeping up with the innovation of information technology plays an essential role in expanding e-health. But besides impressive new technologies that can reach a global audience, we need to remember that digital health’s main goal is to deliver health services to improve the quality of life of patients. To advance digital health in Canada, provincial and federal governments need to reach and engage three types of people: individuals that create data, the panel of experts coming up with creative solutions and patients who represent the vital essence of medicine.

About the Author

Simon is a Health Communication Specialist that disseminates current health information to a general audience. He is currently responsible for the digital marketing of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada. For more on global health and health promotion, follow him on Twitter @simphilip.

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The Hot Topics in Health Innovation blog invites contributions from diverse voices in the fields of health innovation and health policy. If you have news, research, or insights you'd like to share, please contact Jessica Forster-McKewen.

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