On Tuesday, May 6, 2014 Orion Health participated in a webcast hosted by the Ontario Hospital Association. The live-streaming session focused on an ever-prevalent topic in our industry: How does eHealth impact healthcare delivery?

The talk-show type event was hosted by Mark Boudreau, Director Business Development and Strategy, Orion Health and included two guests: family physician Dr. Allen Ausford,and patient activist and broadcaster Jesse Hirsh.

Each guest, specialists in their individual fields, approached the subject of the eHealth impact from a different perspective. The conversation provided insights on the explosion and increased adoption of new technologies that have given rise to new opportunities and challenges in healthcare.

The discussion began with how patients engage and collaborate within the healthcare system, with Hirsh sharing his definition of an ePatient. “An epatient is an empowered patient – one who sees their relationship with their doctor as a partnership, and is looking to help not only their own healthcare, but their friends' and family's.”

The group discussed how patients use the internet to gather knowledge outside of the healthcare system on chronic illness and care. Dr. Ausford emphasised that this approach is not something to dismiss as a healthcare practitioner, but rather embrace as a way to open up discussion with patients. He shared that many years ago before the internet exploded, he gave a quote to a newspaper stating, “In the very near future, doctors will no longer just be information providers, they'll actually become information interpreters.” This led to negative feedback from his peers, but in 2014 it is no longer a wild statement to be making. The internet can be a valuable source of information, but patients should continue look to their doctors as the trusted source to interpret that information and ultimately provide expert counsel on.

The conversation moved to topic of virtual visits and their rise in popularity, and whether they're a useful tool.

Dr. Ausford presented a telling example of the power of a virtual visit. “We've had a situation where we had a brittle diabetic, [and] what we wanted to do was go through some major changes in their treatment. We brought together the patient, the disease management nurse, the pharmacist, the dietician, the endocrinologist, myself all basically virtually with the chart up with everybody looking at it and discussed what we needed to do. We made a change in 15 minutes that normally would have taken two months. So it's huge if it's done right.”

Hirsh echoed Dr. Ausford's sentiments on the power of virtual visits, sharing that even just emailing his doctor on a regular basis is beneficial both for his health and on an information level. He also shared it's “good when you think about diverting people from using facilities and as someone with a chronic illness. I'm never sure when I should take something seriously, so being able to have that virtual connection is a huge plus.”

The guests agreed that balance is key when it comes to connecting virtually. In person visits provide a value that can't be matched over Skype or email, so working with a patient to find a plan that works is important, especially if there's an expectation they'll stick to it and progress on a positive level.

Integration within the healthcare system was also discussed, and the speakers touched on what it's like going through the system as a patient right now and what can be done to improve it. While Hirsh expressed his frustration with the slow progress being made, Dr. Ausford highlighted examples of being able to connect with his patients and electronic health systems from anywhere and being connected to doctors in an emergency room to communicate his patients' needs. It's evident the capability exists to be interoperable, but progress is slow.

The speakers then discussed how unsustainable the current model is, and agreed an open discussion should be had on how best to improve it. Decision-makers should be consulting the general public to identify and meet their needs, especially with the rise of chronic disease, our aging population and the rising cost of healthcare. There should also be greater emphasis on preventative care measures from physicians, even if they aren't considered to be the experts in that area. Again, collaboration was highlighted and encouraged by both Hirsh and Dr. Ausford – whether it's between doctors, patients, healthcare specialists, sociologists, nutritionists, etc., everyone should be collectively working towards the goal of improving the overall health of our population.

Finally, the discussion moved to how the healthcare system is working with outside organisations, where many of the same sentiments and themes came up again. Both Dr. Ausford and Hirsh agreed that the patient needs to be empowered and be surrounded by advocates, whether it's family, friends or their doctors. A patient's healthcare is a team, collaborative effort, and the sooner that idea is embraced, the sooner we move to improving our healthcare system.