Digital Health Week: 2020

By Shelagh Maloney

I think it’s fair to say that 2020 hasn’t been what anyone expected — particularly for health care. But while this year has brought immense challenges to the health system, it has also served to highlight the progress we’ve made in implementing digital health across Canada. Digital Health Week (November 16-22) is a time to celebrate that progress, and to recognize the benefits of digital health to Canadians. This year, COVID-19 has reaffirmed the importance of virtual care as another option for care delivery.

father and daughter looking at tablet in kitchen

In 2020, many Canadians experienced digital health in the form of a virtual visit. With the pandemic’s onset, patients and clinicians turned to virtual care to keep Canadians safe during this unprecedented health crisis. Of course, some health needs are best served with in-person care, but where appropriate, connecting through technology has allowed patients to receive care while avoiding crowded waiting rooms and slowing the virus’s spread.

With all this in mind, it’s no surprise that virtual visits (defined as a visit that is not in-person) are increasing. In particular, virtual video visits have seen significant growth: 14 per cent of Canadians had experienced them as of 2020, compared to four per cent in 2019. As the pandemic continues, the idea of virtual care is becoming increasingly mainstream. According to our large-scale national consultation, conducted by Canada Health Infoway, 84 per cent of Canadians say they would use technology to manage their health.

It’s likely that many Canadians didn’t plan to try virtual care this year. But whether they were apprehensive or excited for their first virtual visit, it was a positive experience for the majority — 91 per cent of Canadians. In addition, 77 per cent stated that the quality of the virtual care they’ve received has been the same as, or better than, an in-person visit. For patients who had a video visit, that number rises to 84 per cent. In a year of immense difficulty, digital health has helped the health system continue to meet the needs of the Canadians it serves.

It’s a truth well-recognized by Canadians. In fact, nine in 10 Canadians report that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown them that virtual health care tools can be important alternatives to in-person visits. But in many ways, we’re still in the beginning stages of this journey. To ensure the best experiences and health outcomes for Canadians, we’ll need to consider things like health literacy, privacy and digital equity. There is considerable work ahead, but also prodigious appetite for digital health among Canadians: 80 per cent believe that investing in health care technology should be a top priority for our government.

We’ve certainly come a long way since the first Digital Health Week in 2014. This week, I hope that you celebrate the journey we’ve had so far and look forward to the road ahead!

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About the author
Shelagh Maloney

Shelagh Maloney

Shelagh Maloney is responsible for managing key stakeholder relationships at Infoway, including those with patients, clinicians and the federal government, as well as the standards community. She is also responsible for performance analytics and coordinating and executing communication and marketing efforts in support of Infoway products and services.