2019 Digital Health Trends Aim to Lessen Health System Barriers

Consumerism is one of the greatest driving forces behind innovation. We live in a world where markets focus on the needs and wants of consumers, and the health system does not deviate from this trend. To meet the demands of rising health-related costs and complexity, for patients and health administrations, operational changes have started taking place.

Technological advances are the key to instigating operational shifts in the healthcare marketplace. In this piece, we will explore a few overarching barriers within healthcare, and how emerging innovations aim to circumvent barriers for individual patients and the entire health system.

1. Building engaging relationships

Relationships are an integral part of the health system. While the doctor-patient relationship is very important and key to effective health care, it is not the only relationship that matters. There are many points of contact in the health system where communication falls short due to ineffective engagement. Points of contact in healthcare are normally between:

  1. Physician and Patient
  2. Administrative staff and Patient
  3. Physicians
  4. Physician and Caregivers/family
  5. Physician and Allied health professionals 

Digital health tools can be used to facilitate communication, enhance engagement and bolster relationships. They are about reinforcing and improving the relationship within healthcare, particularly between patient and healthcare providers. Three-quarters of physicians have linked improved patient engagement with digital patient engagement tools, and the majority of physicians had a form of digital education tool in their clinics [1].

Engagement cannot be measured by the initial interaction to a digital tool. If engagement is to be effective, it has to be sustainable. To ensure sustainability, digital tools aim to also impact methods that are of concern for the health system: automation, workflow integration, and provision of actionable data. In essence, consumers, both patients and health administrators, value experience, and have come to expect personalized, targeted approaches to address problems.

2. Data management

Patients have been and continue to receive care across multiple health sectors, from primary to acute care. Electronic health records (EHR) tools have been put in place to facilitate the collection of data in healthcare settings. Unfortunately, healthcare providers and organizations continue to utilize fragmented technologies, creating barriers towards collaboration and data sharing opportunities. These barriers are worsened if a patient utilizes both public and private healthcare resources. The information gathered at each interaction with the health system needs to be managed and stored in a manner that can be utilized in the future. To date, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have made incredible impacts on the practice of digital healthcare. In 2019, further advances in the move toward seamless care are expected.

As more data feeds into health systems, further advances need to take place to ensure efficient care and the ability to implement solutions are achieved. Standardized software implemented in healthcare settings must provide the technological foundations for data sharing — extending the functionality of EHRs and other technologies that support connected care. Interoperability is a major component in digital health innovation: as health data is received from multiple sectors, secure data exchange becomes imperative in providing continuity of care. With interoperability, data can be aggregated across multiple providers and settings. Applications that target hospitals and medical clinics will include patient monitoring and transcribing notes for EHRs. Lastly, complete access to EHRs for patients and providers is an essential step in the push toward providing a holistic picture of a patient’s health profile to themselves and any care provider resulting in enabled targeted health outcome.

3. Meeting the demands of integrated care

Chronic diseases, like heart disease, cancer, stroke, or diabetes, are the leading cause of death and disability in America. 60% of Americans have at least one chronic disease, accounting to over 80% of hospital admissions [2]. These patients and their care need to be managed. Management of chronic illness is one of the key areas of growth in 2019, along with behavioral health and specialty medicine. These needs range from annual wellness exams to the opioid crisis, where healthcare providers are at the forefront to addressing these demands.

Platforms and applications that are interoperable with EHR systems will be especially valuable to providers across all health sectors, given the increase in insight and communication telehealth will provide about a specific patient. With limited resources in the health system, from financial constraints to continued demands of regulatory compliance and accreditation, enhanced clinical efficiency via digital health tools will make it easier for healthcare providers to provide care. Integration of such platforms provides physicians with the ability to monitor vital signs and assess reactions to treatments without being physically present while providing real-time diagnosis and intervention without time-consuming office visits.  

Through the provision of clinical care at a distance, increasing accessibility and eliminating potential delays in care has and will give patients greater control, thus enhancing satisfaction and overall engagement.

Digital health now has successfully expanded to include support for a wide range of conditions across the spectrum of care, from behavioral health to cancer, heart conditions, and other complex care conditions. As health systems increase their focus on value-based care and population health, these tools will provide convenient and lower-cost opportunities to access care.

Patient engagement and empowerment tools enhance cancer care process

According to a recent survey, approximately 90% of patients with chronic illnesses need assistance with disease management, and 70% need healthcare providers to supply them with more educational resources [1]. However, the tools that have traditionally been in place do not provide the optimal level of assistance and communication to meet the needs of patients.

In essence, to improve health outcomes, patients and caregivers need to have access to tools that provide prognosis and procedural education, allowing for effective communication with the cancer care team. When patients are informed, they are able to express the urgency of their needs to better navigate through their care continuum.

In oncology, controlling and treating cancer ranges across a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Treatment measures can be effective in stopping tumor progression, managing pain, and extending life. These may be accompanied with unintentional side effects, ranging from short-term and transient to long-term and persistent that can arise years after the first treatment.

Patient portals containing electronic personal health records linked to health systems, patient reported outcomes, and patient-centered education are currently recognized as promising tools to enhance health outcomes. Studies show that patient engagement throughout diagnostic, workup, and treatment, improves patient-provider relationships, enhances patient safety, and empowers patients and their caregivers [2].

Portals allow health professionals the ability to efficiently “track preventive measures such as screening tests and immunizations [3]”, and enable shared-decision making between health professionals and the patient. Communication between patients and the care team is enhanced with careful documentation of each interaction. A study by Easley et al. highlights that better communication among health professionals and with patients is the most common factor contributing to a positive experience within cancer care coordination [4]. When health professionals are given suitable tools to further enhance health literacy and promote self-management – patient outcomes throughout cancer treatment and survivorship planning improve.

Patient safety is further enhanced through the usage of portals that allow the tracking of stages of care in a centralized manner [5]. When supplemented with other software tools (i.e. tailored evidence-based educational articles, and patient reported outcomes and questionnaires) patients are able to monitor their health and efficiently report their status to the care provider.

Equicare Health is amongst the leading patient navigation health IT companies, currently serving over 250,000 oncology patients at over 240 cancer centers across the globe. Equicare Health provides efficient communication tools, a platform of educational content, and patient reported outcomes and questionnaires. The aim is to empower oncology navigation teams, caregivers and their patients.

The educational content provided is personalized for the patient and their care team. Equicare’s partnership with Oncolink and the inclusion of comprehensive drug fact sheets provides patients access to an extensive set of cancer educational content. Equicare has integrated Oncolink’s Education Library into their system to allow for timely and appropriate education provision.

Patient reported outcomes and questionnaires are measurements of any aspect of a patient’s health status that are provided directly from the individual [6]. They can provide invaluable information for timely risk management and assessing the overall effectiveness of cancer interventions. Cancer care organizations have begun integrating patient reported outcomes into their routine clinical practice. The hope is to improve cancer symptom screening and management across their jurisdiction.

Informal patient reported outcome measures in cancer care have always been in play. However, it has only been recently that there is growing interest on collecting information in a systematic and efficient manner through electronic collection and e-patient reported outcomes. Electronic collection yields reliable data that are of higher quality than health professional reported data that, in turn, facilitate conversation and increase patient involvement in their care.

Written by Dorri Mahdaviani , who holds a Masters of Public Health (MPH) from the University of British Columbia (UBC). Her academic and professional interests include the areas of chronic illnesses, health care systems and childhood health and development. 

Infographics and Design by Ann Wong, who holds a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada. She is an author of over 10 SCI publications, having taught at UBC and the Peking University Health Science Center (PUHSC) in Beijing. 

Cancer Care: From screening positive to diagnosis, and oncology team connection

Cancer screening procedures strive for effective early detection. In order to screen large numbers of at risk individuals, screening practices need to be simple, cheap and efficient. Diagnostic tests are used to determine the presence or absence of cancer. Symptomatic individuals, or individuals with positive cancer screening results, go through potentially invasive and expensive diagnostic procedures to establish the presence of a tumor.

As the cancer journey is complex and convoluted, the patient needs to meet with health professionals with different skill sets to facilitate the process. An oncologist oversees a patient’s care from diagnosis and throughout the course of treatment. Patients consult with their general practitioner and, at times in combination with, health insurance providers to be referred to the most appropriate oncologist. Databases, such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) [1], also provide open access lists.

Within the United States, approximately one third of patients aged 0 – 64 years (a population of approximately over 90 million) are referred to a specialist by their primary care physician [2]. A well-coordinated referral system needs to be established to accommodate this high frequency of referrals, in addition to connecting primary and specialty care.

All members of the oncology care team (oncologists, general practitioners, radiologists, nurse navigators, patient coordinators, registered dietitians, etc.) play an integral role in enhancing the quality of care received. The care provided encompasses diverse aspects of health services. In addition to appropriate care that is timely and appropriate, other elements of cancer care include psychosocial assessment, suitable and timely referral, and individualized treatment that considers each patient’s needs and preferences. A multidisciplinary team is needed to address these tasks, which may create complexities to care coordination in both hospital and community settings. Challenges include recognizing health professional roles and responsibilities, communication between the care team and with the patient, managing scarce resources, and transitioning patients through care.

Digital technologies have aimed to address these challenges [3]. These include:

  • Electronic portals

  • Electronic Health Records (EHRs)

  • Patient reported outcomes measures

  • Patient-centered education

They are utilized to enable collaborative care coordination systems. Patient experience and outcome is enhanced when implementation of optimal technologies are coupled with proper training and support for patients and the care team.

Recent evidence-based research has proven that improving quality of care through enhanced communication and a well-coordinated system is advantageous for the patient, the medical team, and healthcare system. Researchers have embarked on a series of studies aimed at identifying quality measures. Two examples of these cover:

1. The impact of EHRs and oncology EMR tools used by multidisciplinary teams in GP-oncologist communication and facilitation of cancer care. [4]

2. Use of IT-enabled measurements and patient reported outcomes by patients and the care team to enhance patient-centered care (allowing for a seamless incorporation of patient perspectives into cancer care practices). [5]

As a patient moves through from screening and diagnostics to workup, treatment plan, and the care planning stages – clear communication, education tools, and access improve patient engagement.

In our next article, we will take a closer look at different ways of engaging patients and their caregivers (e.g. patient portals, patient reported outcomes, and patient-centred education), and how they can ultimately improve the quality of health outcomes.

Main resources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK223387/

Written by Dorri Mahdaviani , who holds a Masters of Public Health (MPH) from the University of British Columbia (UBC). Her academic and professional interests include the areas of chronic illnesses, health care systems and childhood health and development. 

Infographics and Design by Ann Wong, who holds a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada. She is an author of over 10 SCI publications, having taught at UBC and the Peking University Health Science Center (PUHSC) in Beijing. 

Ready to Rocket lists Equicare Health as one of the top digital health companies of 2017

Vancouver, CANADA – March 14, 2017 Equicare Health Inc., the leading supplier of comprehensive care coordination solutions, has been named as one of the top digital health companies in Rocket Builder’s 2017 Ready to Rocket list. The list highlights technology companies with the highest growth potential in the sectors of Digital Health, Information and Communications Technology, Cleantech and LifeSciences.

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Closing the information gap: Web-based PROs systems hold promise in supportive cancer care


Patients with cancer suffer from disease and treatment related symptoms. Many of these clinically- relevant details are often missed or forgotten as these patient-reported outcomes (PROs) are typically only discussed at clinic visits. “Prior research has shown that doctors miss up to half of patients’ symptoms during cancer treatment,” noted medical oncologist Ethan Basch Director of the UNC Lineberger Cancer Outcomes Research Program and an Associate Professor of UNC School of Medicine Division of Hematology and Oncology [1]. Symptoms can also arise from medical comorbidities, such as diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), especially with an aging population [2].  Greater diversity of expertise is needed to address these added complexities.  Results from a comorbidity study in skin cancer patients suggest that patient-reported questionnaires may better identify any coexisting disorders (n=44; 79.5% and 88.6% by traditional medical interview and patient-reported questionnaire, respectively) even when there are discordant observations [3].

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Recognizing 2017 with Ready to Rocket


It is our pleasure to announce our recognition as one of the top digital health companies of 2017 by Rocket Builder’s Ready to Rocket list.

In its 15th year of profiling BC technology companies best positioned to capitalize on technology trends and fast growth, this is Ready to Rocket’s first year recognizing health care services in the digital health sector.

We were featured as one of the top Life Sciences Companies in BC last year.

We are pleased to be included with so many strong Canadian tech companies making waves in the community.

For more information about Ready to Rocket: http://www.readytorocket.com

Equicare Health introduces Extract Engine 1.0 with expanded MOSAIQ integration

Vancouver, CANADA – March 7, 2017 Equicare Health Inc., the leading supplier of comprehensive care coordination solutions, releases Extract Engine 1.0 (EE 1.0) which streamlines data flow between Equicare products and oncology information systems (OIS), making access to new data less disruptive and seamless. The introduction of EE 1.0 greatly expands integration with Elekta’s MOSAIQ OIS, pulling over more data than ever.

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