Beyond technology: Digital health as an enabler of integrated care
Last month, the WCH Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV) co-hosted an all-day program with the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA). Aimed at health industry leaders, the event explored the promise of digital health tools and virtual care models to re-think and improve care delivery across the province.
The day started with opening remarks by WCH president and CEO Heather McPherson and was followed by a series of presentations from digital health experts. Dr. Sacha Bhatia, WCH’s chief medical innovation officer, began with a presentation highlighting how current system challenges have led to increased innovation within Ontario’s health sector. Setting the stage for the day to come, he noted that “while digital transformation is occurring, it is essential that it is done properly. It isn’t about the tool, it’s about how it’s used.”
Dr. Onil Bhattacharyya, WCH scientist and family physician, and Dr. Edward Brown, CEO of the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN), followed. Both Bhattacharyya and Brown stressed that technology can enable healthcare service re-design and, in turn, produce enhanced and more integrated care.
“Applying an integrative and nimble approach when managing the uncertainty that comes with the implementation of digital health tools has a significant impact,” said Dr. Bhattacharyya. “It allows teams to learn from their mistakes more quickly and pivot their approach as needed.”
Two panel discussions followed the presentations. The first discussion focused on the experiences, perspectives and lessons learned by organizations who have begun their digital transformation. The conversation highlighted the need to create a strong culture of digital health across an organization coupled with collaboration. The panelists also noted the importance of collecting information and data efficiently and in a way that reduces duplication and generates value.
The second panel focused on the perspectives of both providers and patients. Given the increased use of electronic medical records and patient health information portals, the panelists highlighted the need for a policy supporting digital health information exchange in order to reduce silos between institutions and increase the ease of sharing information. Each panelist also stressed the importance of generating trust between providers and patients during times of digital health transitions.
In order to synthesize the morning’s presentations and panel discussions, participants then took part in a co-solving healthcare challenges workshop. Facilitated by WIHV scientists, participants were challenged to re-think and improve upon an existing care delivery issue by leveraging specific technology-enabled solutions. At the end of the workshop, teams shared the care delivery issue they tackled and how digital health tools could best address the problem.
To close the day, Dr. Danielle Martin, WCH’s executive vice president and chief medical executive, provided the closing keynote. Her presentation centred on WCH’s Women’s Virtual – Canada’s first virtual hospital. Dr. Martin outlined how the Women’s Virtual team is working with departments across the hospital to integrate tools, like e-consultation, video visits, online groups and more, into existing clinics, allowing WCH to treat and care for patients in the setting most appropriate for them.
“It’s not just about digitizing existing processes. It’s about creating a new model of care that better supports patients, leveraging both in-person care and virtual care,” said Dr. Martin.
Healthcare is a collective effort. Sharing learnings and best practices about digital health transformation with other health organizations represents a valuable opportunity to enhance care and modernize our existing systems.