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From ordering food to buying airline tickets. conducting banking transactions and more, digital tools are making it easier and more convenient than ever for Canadians to access an array of services. Canada Health Infoway president and CEO Michael Green says the continuing digitization of health records and health services is bringing a range of vital benefits to citizens in need.

“Take mental health challenges, for example. Every kid has a phone, and they are texting all the time,” he explains. “Reaching out for help in this familiar way can allow them to stay anonymous and get an immediate response.”

Using technology allows organizations such as Kids Help Phone to make their services more accessible to vulnerable populations, but the benefits of using digital means of communication are not limited to organizations serving youths or to crisis counselling services, says Green, who believes it is time for health care to more fully embrace the digital age.

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Research has shown that Canadians want to be able to book appointments or order prescription refills online, as well as connect with their health-care providers via video conference. The option of viewing lab test results online is already available in several provinces and has garnered much interest.

“People would find it easier to go online for some of the routine things for which they currently have to visit a doctor’s office,” he says. “Using technology would save time and money for the individuals as well as the health-care system.”

At a time when health-care costs – the largest ticket item in provincial budgets – are increasing, Green believes digital tools can be part of the solution. “When you use digital health effectively, there is an opportunity for improving care and quality while increasing efficiency and sustainability.”

We want to empower citizens to take charge of their health.

— Michael Green, president and CEO of Canada Health Infoway

In addition, it has been demonstrated that giving patients more access to their health information can help them better understand the issues affecting their overall well-being and take a more proactive role in working towards better health outcomes, says Green. “We want to empower citizens to take charge of their health, with physicians and other health-care providers playing the role of trusted advisers.”

Electronic health records can enable better access to a patient’s medical and medication history, which facilitates better co-ordination between health-care providers, such as family doctors, specialists, nurses and others, says Green. “When someone is admitted to the hospital, for example, the doctor on duty needs to know what drugs the patient is taking. In the past, they would bring along all their pill bottles to go through them. With electronic records, this is far easier and mistakes can be avoided.”

Previous investments in clinical and hospital information systems have already created a solid foundation, says Green. “We just have to connect the dots to make the systems work for patients, doctors and other clinicians.”

Canada Health Infoway is leading a movement called ACCESS 2022 that aims to build on these investments in foundational systems, and give patients, families and clinicians access to information and digitally enabled services anytime, anywhere, from the device of their choice. This will empower patients and enable them to better manage their health, which will lead to better health outcomes, according to Green.

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“ACCESS 2022 is also looking to connect patients with their caregivers and clinicians through telemedicine services. This can be especially useful for people in remote areas or communities with a shortage of physicians,” he says. “Being able to reach out with digital tools can also lower the barriers for people seeking help for mental health challenges, since they could initially stay anonymous.”

“ACCESS 2022 is the future of health care in Canada,” Green says. “It’s our collective vision of a modern, 21st century health system that will be a source of pride for all Canadians.”

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Digital platform enables timely response to youth in distress

Kids Help Phone took its first call three decades ago, offering kids in distress access to counselling, no matter their location, their situation or their background. Since then, the charity has striven to keep pace with the changing needs of the people it serves.

From expanding beyond phone to include email and chat counselling, it recently launched an SMS platform called Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.

“Young people are going to use technology and innovation, and we need to figure out how to leverage that to be there for them in the ways that they need and want,” says Alisa Simon, vice president, Service Innovation, and chief youth officer at Kids Help Phone.

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Since many young people connect with each other through SMS, this format offered a clear solution, she explains. “As a charity that is the go-to place for young people in Canada, we will be irrelevant if we don’t figure out how digital technology and innovation and the next thing can allow us to be there for young people.”

A partnership with Canada Health Infoway has enabled Kids Help Phone to keep up with demand and ensure that every young person in distress can get help – without getting a busy signal or experiencing long wait times. Today, Crisis Text Line has 350 texting conversations per day.

By fully embracing digital technology, Kids Help Phone is taking part in the digital transformation of Canada’s health-care system.

Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s Editorial Department was not involved in its creation.

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