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Digital Health is a Crucial Pillar of the Future of Family Practice in Canada

Posted on February 6, 2019 by Artem Safarov

As the health care needs of Canadian families evolve, structures providing care, such as primary care, must evolve accordingly. The Patient`s Medical Home (PMH) is the vision for the future of family practice presented by the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC). It emphasizes the factors that contribute to patient-centred, continuous, comprehensive, compassionate care that is valued by both patients and providers. After serving as a blueprint for several primary care reforms across Canada, the vision is being updated in 2019 to remain relevant and account for the latest evidence available.

One of the defining features of the PMH vision is a reliance on effective use of electronic records to store and use patient information. Overall, the use of electronic medical records (EMRs) is reaching ubiquity as recent surveys (including Canada Health Infoway`s 2018 Canadian Physician Survey) point to EMR use at or above 80+ per cent adoption by family physicians — a steep increase from 2007, when, according to the National Physician Survey, only 24.8 per cent of family doctors used EMRs.1

Use of EMRs result in a number of efficiencies: better use of staff time, reduced duplication of tests and improved chronic disease management2. This meets the PMH vision of providing efficient care over time through accessible information and familiarity with the patient. The 2018 Canadian Physician Survey provides new data, finding 82 per cent of family physician respondents are providing more efficient care using EMRs.

As information technology advances, providers are able to connect and access information from several care settings. It’s encouraging that 84 per cent of family physicians can access connected care information outside of their practice. Advancing this connectivity and interoperability will result in a health care system that is integrated and, in turn, benefits the patient.

While most findings of the Canadian Physician Survey are encouraging for PMH implementation, there are areas that offer opportunities for improvement. For example, the ability to request an appointment was only available for nine per cent of respondents, with only three per cent offering an opportunity to book appointments online. The percentage of primary care physicians offering online/video access was also low, at four per cent. These are examples of accommodating emerging patient preferences in order to deliver care in an accessible and convenient way. In many instances, these opportunities require policy changes (e.g. robust billing code system for online access to physician consultation).

Information technology plays an essential role in allowing care to be accessible and interconnected. The updated vision for the Patient’s Medical Home, detailing the vision for the future of family practice in Canada will be available in February of 2019. Visit www.patientsmedicalhome.ca to learn more.


1 National Physician Survey 2012 Results
2 The Emerging Benefits of Electronic Medical Record Use in Community-Based Care: Full Report

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Artem SafarovArtem Safarov is the Director of Health Policy and Government Relations with the College of Family Physicians of Canada where he works to provide a family medicine voice to the many policy discussions affecting the planning and delivery of health care across Canada.

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