eHealth is an overarching term used to describe the application of information and communications technologies in the health sector, according to Health Canada. It encompasses a whole range of purposes from purely administrative through to healthcare delivery.
For example: within the hospital care setting, eHealth refers to electronic patient administration systems; laboratory and radiology information systems; electronic messaging systems; and telemedicine — teleconsults, telepathology and teledermatology.
To name a few within the home care setting, they include teleconsults and remote vital signs monitoring systems used for diabetes medicine, asthma monitoring and home dialysis systems.
Within the primary care setting, eHealth can refer to the use of computer systems by general practitioners and pharmacists for patient management, medical records and electronic prescribing.
Health Canada believes a fundamental building block of all the aforementioned applications is the electronic health record (EHR), which allows the sharing of necessary information between healthcare providers across medical disciplines and institutions, and the whole of Canada from coast to coast.
Other important uses of eHealth are found in the areas of continuous medical education and public health awareness and education.
eHealth is an essential element of healthcare renewal: its application to Canada’s healthcare system will result in benefits to Canadians through improvements in system accessibility, quality and efficiency.
The Government of Canada has been making investments in this area since the 1997 Federal Budget, including federal commitments towards First Ministers Agreements (September 2000 and 2003).
A key factor in the success of the Government’s work in eHealth is its strong commitment to collaboration.
Health Canada’s current priorities and efforts focus on addressing policy issues and challenges in mainstreaming eHealth services within Canada’s healthcare system and in measuring progress in the deployment and investment of these services.
Health Canada partner Canada Health Infoway is working with governments at federal/provincial and the territorial levels to accelerate the implementation of electronic health information systems in Canada.
Infoway offers resources in e-health, or the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to enable healthcare and health information services activities.
Development of a network of interoperable EHR solutions across Canada — linking clinics, hospitals, pharmacies and other points of care will help improve Canadians’ access to healthcare services to enhance the quality of care and make the healthcare system more productive and is Infoways’ main objective.
While every Canadian citizen has access to publicly funded healthcare, the manner in which the healthcare system is structured, funded and governed varies from province to province, according to Michael Martineau, president of the Ottawa, Ont.-based Branham Group.
This situation can best be described as “variations on a theme” and it extends to eHealth, with every province setting its own priorities and timetable for eHealth adoption, he says.
“Notwithstanding the provincial variations, several major healthcare trends are emerging that have a direct impact on eHealth adoption: the consolidation of healthcare services delivery, either through hospital amalgamation or regionalization; the vertical integration of healthcare services delivery across the continuum of care primarily through regionalization; third-party provisioning of eHealth service through various mechanisms including outsourcing, shared service organizations and partnering between several healthcare organizations; strong senior-level support for eHealth within healthcare organizations, regional health authorities and provincial ministries of health; alignment of provincial eHealth agendas with priorities set by Canada Health Infoway, a federal organization created to foster and accelerate the development of pan-Canadian electronic health information systems.”
Effective healthcare service delivery is heavily dependent upon timely access to relevant patient information, Martineau says.
“Existing manual, paper-based processes simply cannot keep pace with the explosion of information and ever more complex diagnostic and treatment options,” he says. “eHealth will provide patients and healthcare providers alike with the tools needed to easily and quickly access the information needed to make timely and effective decisions, thereby increasing patient safety and improving overall healthcare system efficiency.
The Australian government’s lates report profiling Australia’s strong progress in E-Health — from Telehealth to E-Health: The Unstoppable Rise of E-Health — reveals that Australia is a leading edge developer and user of innovative health care solutions. Like other sectors of the Australian economy, health is increasingly adopting information and information technologies (I&IT) and e-commerce strategies to deliver services to customers and consumers. E-Health describes the information technology and telecommunications applications being used increasing for clinical, educational and business purposes in the health system.
Read articles on ehealth in Australia