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Fix information gaps in health-care system

April 2018 thestar; I keep hearing how Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Big Data will revolutionize health care. While we look to the future, let’s not ignore the technological challenges facing the industry today — specifically, inefficiencies in existing processes and technologies.

For example, we confuse care quality with how much is spent on the system. But more money doesn’t necessarily equal better care. The health-care system is vast and complex and the difficulties within it are well-documented. The reality is budgets are finite and every taxpayer dollar is a sacred trust.

Indeed, many of the problems that exist today — such as long wait times and poor care co-ordination — are simply the result of information gaps that exist between care providers.

With the Orion Health Chronic Care Index (a Leger poll of 1,551 Canadians) we set out to learn how Canadians with chronic conditions interact with the health care system. The findings show patients see significant room for improvement, especially when it comes to information-sharing.

For example, one-in-five Canadians with chronic conditions have experienced medication errors or duplications. Medication errors put patients unnecessarily in harm’s way, but they are preventable. With proper care co-ordination and shared electronic health records, health-care providers can make informed decisions and reduce the chance of medication errors.

The survey also found nearly half of Canadians with chronic conditions have repeatedly described their conditions, symptoms and medications every time they visited a care provider. Accurate, complete and shared information is key to decision-making, especially in health.

In addition, 16 per cent of Canadians have undergone unnecessary repeat procedures. I expect many of these fall under medical imaging procedures, such as MRIs or CT scans, and hopefully not surgeries. Regardless, repetitive procedures are unnecessary and only clog the system.

Inefficiencies are a shortfall of the system, and do not reflect the work of individual practitioners. Nevertheless, every misdiagnosis, redundant procedure and unnecessary question adds to wait times and subtracts from budgets.

With practitioners working in offices, hospitals and specialized facilities, it is important to have a means of sharing up-to-date and accurate information for the diagnosis and treatment of patients. Countrywide, our healthcare system is a patchwork with each province running its own system.

Using health-care budgets for costly rip-and-replace solutions is not the best approach. There is another way — one that leverages existing technologies and allows disparate health systems to communicate with one another, giving practitioners access to complete patient records.

The problems I have discussed exist at the intersection of communication and technology, when patients are being treated by multiple practitioners or being transitioned from a hospital, for example, back into the community. The findings show that a sizeable portion of Canadians with chronic conditions believe that care providers need a better means to share information.

In short, for disparate healthcare systems to realize their full value, it’s necessary for information to be integrated and shared across the medical and care community.

 

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