It’s easy to get carried away with the continual promise of better health care through technology. From the IBM Watson super computer to vending machines that dispense pharmaceuticals, we are likely on the cusp of a new wave of technology that will vastly change the way we deliver health care. Whether that is for better or worse is up for debate.
The public largely buys into the dream of transformation through technology. Even with all the questions raised about problems with electronic health records, for example, surveys still show substantial public support. Are we even aware of what the trade-offs are?
Richard Alvarez, President and CEO of Canada Health Infoway, told an audience this morning that the next big thing will be personal health monitors, easily accessible devices that can be picked up at department stores like Walmart.
Speaking at Longwood’s Breakfast with the Chiefs alongside Dr. Jennifer Zelmer, vice-president of clinical adoption and innovation at Canada Health Infoway, the two argued that technology can be a case of the good, the bad and the ugly. Not surprisingly given the speakers, the presentation got specific on the good and much more vague on the bad and the ugly.
Canada Health Infoway is an independent not-for-profit corporation created by Canada’s First Ministers in 2001, and funded by the Government of Canada. CHI has a mandate to work with governments, health care stakeholders and the technology industry to “improve access to health information for better care.”
After enthusing about personal health monitors, Alvarez pondered who would pay for these items, harkening back to a quote they began the session with from futurist William Gibson – “the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.” What role does government play in levelling that playing field?
The speakers highlighted the ability of technology to make health care more accessible to remote communities, especially ones that face difficulties recruiting specialists. Zelmer specifically made the claim that Telehealth saves Canadian patients from driving 47 million kilometres at an estimated cost of $55 million. The opportunities are certainly much broader. Alvarez said with digital scanning it was possible for pathologists to work out of a single center in Canada. It was interesting that none of the audience members picked up on the implications of this – if it could all be done out of a single center, what’s to say that this center even had to be in Canada? That should be enough to make any pathologist nervous.