Our Ideal Future Starts Today: World Health Day 2021

By Shelagh Maloney

Each year, April 7 marks World Health Day. With the past year marked by the global struggle against COVID-19, the occasion has never been more significant. The pandemic’s impact has been devastating and swift; not one person or nation has escaped its effects. In particular, health systems have struggled to meet demand for services while keeping patients and providers safe.

Women wearing a surgical mask typing on a laptop

COVID-19 has forced a reimagining of norms and conventions we long took for granted: how we work, communicate and access health care. These changes have led to positive innovations, but the work we have undertaken during the pandemic must continue beyond it. The foundation we lay today will shape the health system of tomorrow — and so, it’s essential to have the right blueprint.

To this end, Canada Health Infoway engaged in a consultative process to determine the opportunities and changes that can have the most impact, and to start a national dialogue about how to achieve the best future for Canada’s health system. This work built on A Healthy Dialogue, a large-scale national public consultation to understand Canadians’ needs, expectations and concerns about the future of their health system, as well as the role of technology in the delivery of better health care. Specifically, we:

  • Completed extensive national and international research to explore and analyze key trends and driving forces applicable to the future of health in Canada across social, technological, political, economic, environmental and political sectors;
  • Engaged a diverse set of interconnected health stakeholders, including patients, clinicians, researchers, Indigenous representatives, health leaders from across the public and private sectors, innovators and digital solution providers;
  • Facilitated discussions across the country to gain insights and perspectives through a regional lens, acknowledging that every locale and population may have different needs and challenges; and
  • Leveraged a scenario planning methodology to guide the thinking around Canada’s possible futures within the next five to 10 years and the choices that need to be made to ensure ideal outcomes for the future of health.

We found that while the progress made during the pandemic has created a sense of optimism, experts and leaders feel that we are not progressing towards an ideal health system and that we will revert to the past unless we take bold action now.

Our ideal future embraces the “new normal” of a post-COVID world that advances data exchanges across an interconnected health system and empowers patients and providers with the right tools and information. But if we want to move forward, we cannot look back to old ways. We identified a set of five key opportunity areas that stakeholders believe will have the greatest impact on our health system and will accelerate necessary changes to it:

  • In an ideal future, individuals have access to their health data and have more agency to make decisions about their own health, facilitating preventative care and health promotion.
  • COVID-19 has taught us that we need to use data to learn faster, improve health equity and make insight-driven decisions to better serve our populations.
  • Achieving seamless and timely access to quality care requires integrated models that include the effective and efficient use of virtual care, which is here to stay.
  • Our health workforce is our most important asset; we need to ensure they are equipped to take on evolving care models, which are enabled by technology and changing the nature of work.
  • As a country, we need to shift health from being an economic cost to an economic driver, while promoting the health of all Canadians.

In addition, overarching themes of unified leadership, collective efforts and a focus on ensuring equity for all Canadians were viewed as paramount to all five opportunities.

Some of this important work has already started. To create our ideal future, we need to act now. As we celebrate World Health Day, let’s think about changing our trajectory. Let’s think differently and let’s be bold, addressing foundational needs and advancing innovation, while always placing patients at the centre of change.

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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.