Region/Countries: Canada, North America Industry: Biosciences / Medical Devices, Other Date: December 2017

Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Wisconsin companies can contribute to the spread of health technology, but should be aware of how the Canadian health care system differs from that of the U.S.

The digital future of health care is gathering speed, and Canada’s health care industry is in the midst of change. Today’s convergence of mobile, social, biometrics, genomics, artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain has proven the utility of digital health and is driving changes in health care delivery. In this new era of connectivity and access to data, patients are no longer passive health care recipients, but are becoming active, value-seeking consumers. "Digital health is transforming health care delivery in Canada," says Michael Green, president and CEO of Canada Health Infoway, an independent, federally funded, nonprofit organization tasked with accelerating the adoption of digital health solutions, such as electronic health records, across Canada. There are countless stories about how digital health is making a difference for clinicians and Canadians. All in all, it better enables clinicians to access the information they need to make decisions quickly and empowers patients to better manage their health through online portals and other digital tools and services.

New resources are available, and organizations have responded to the growing digital health sector in Canada. Digital Health Week, Canada Health Infoway, the Canadian Healthcare Technology organization, and Canada’s e-Health Conference and Trade Show are emerging as part of a larger Canadian digital health care ecosystem. As more Canadians are seeking to actively participate in their own health care delivery, new companies are emerging that implement blockchain and AI technologies to meet demand. Technologies in this market include smartphone apps on wellness or disease management, electronic medical records, and payroll and scheduling software. The market is moving away from a traditional medical standard and routine performance to an individualistic approach to medical care depending on each individual’s specific issues and needs.

The health care system in Canada is very different than that of the U.S., presenting a host of different challenges and opportunities. Companies interested in pursuing the Canadian marketplace should keep in mind that instead of having a single national health care system, Canada falls under 13 provincial and territorial health care jurisdictions. Under this system, all Canadian residents have reasonable access to medically necessary hospital and physician services. Roles and responsibilities for health care services are shared between provincial and territorial governments and the federal government.

The federal government is responsible for:

  • setting and administering national standards for the health care system through the Canada Health Act;
  • providing funding support for provincial and territorial health care services;
  • supporting the delivery for health care services to specific groups; and
  • providing other health-related functions.

Provincial and territorial health care agencies must meet the standards described in the Canada Health Act. Some unique digital health care challenges include:

  • Provincial policies do not allow patients to access their records or information at the different health groups. For example, many hospitals are currently implementing patient portals, but access to records cannot be shared. Policies need to change even before blockchains can be established, i.e., government policies need to be made to allow the "unlocking" of patients’ records.
  • Hospital IT is funded using traditional methodology, making it difficult for vendors to sell to medical organizations because a budget is needed to begin the transaction.

As the digital health care sector in Canada continues to evolve, provincial and federal governments in Canada will continue to seek new policies to meet the changing environment while engaging with stakeholders and innovators within the digital health care arena.