Consulting Canadians About the Future of Health Care

By Jane Holden

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve often found myself grateful for the tools and technologies that have helped us to keep living our lives while grappling with this unprecedented health crisis. While we’ve remained apart, technology has helped us stay connected to our friends, our families and our health system. The experience of this pandemic has concretely demonstrated benefits associated with virtual care and other digital health tools. Does this mean Canadians are ready to embrace these new digital health technologies and models of care for the long term?

Individual typing on smartphone

Well before the pandemic’s onset, Canada Health Infoway engaged Environics Research to undertake a national consultation with Canadians about their needs, expectations and concerns about the future of the health system, as well as the role of technology in the delivery of better health care. The initiative, called A Healthy Dialogue, was one of the largest public consultations about digital health ever conducted in Canada, reaching more than 58,000 Canadians in every province and territory.

While the pandemic has virtualized much of our daily lives, many of us were already used to communicating, shopping and banking online. Similarly, Canadians want technology to play a regular part in their relationship with the health system, with 92 per cent of Canadians surveyed saying they want technology that makes health care as convenient as other aspects of their lives. They also recognize other countries’ advances in digital health; 93 per cent say they want Canada to keep up and 80 per cent say that investment in digital health technologies should be a top government priority. Nearly nine in 10 say the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on the health care system have shown them that virtual tools can be an important alternative to seeing doctors in-person.

However, this excitement about the future is tempered with pragmatism about the present. Across the country, Canadians are concerned about health system challenges such as wait times, access to health care providers and systemic inequities. They prioritize digital health tools focused on addressing these “first order” challenges, eager to shore up the health system’s foundations before embracing more advanced technologies.

Yet despite a strong appetite for digital health, nearly six in 10 Canadians feel that they don’t know enough about digital health apps and services. An additional four in 10 report that their level of understanding of their health information is a barrier to their use of digital health tools. They recognize that digital health tools can empower them to better manage their own health, but they want a better idea of the possibilities available to them — and they need to know that their concerns about data privacy and security will be prioritized.

Throughout A Healthy Dialogue, Canadians were clear and consistent: they are ready to embrace digital health technologies. They’re enthusiastic about the potential of digital health tools to address longstanding challenges within the health system. They also recognize the need for ongoing education and support in implementing new digital health technologies. We’re no longer a dial-up nation — working together, we can bring our health system into the twenty-first century.

Want to learn more about the results of A Healthy Dialogue? Download the executive summary here, and tune in to our discussion on the Digital Health InfoCast.

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About the author
Jane Holden

Jane Holden

Jane Holden, Executive Director, Special Projects - Canada Health Infoway, is a global award-winning expert in project, program and portfolio management with over 20 years' experience leading large multi-disciplinary teams in the successful delivery of complex business and information technology initiatives.

As Infoway’s Executive Director, Special Projects, Jane is leading an initiative intended to help Canada prepare for emerging technologies and other trends that are expected to shape the future of our health system over the next five to ten years. This initiative includes A Healthy Dialogue, one of the largest-ever national public consultations on digital health.