Technology in the healthcare space is evolving at a rapid pace in Canada, and NATIONAL is excited to be supporting innovative companies as they expand into this growing space. These advancements are poised to play a major role in helping our health system meet the growing demands and unique needs of this country’s diverse population. The last few months of collaboration with these companies have allowed our healthcare communications team to make a few observations about the sector, here are a few of them.
Language barriers are being broken down, allowing for better access to healthcare
Canada is a diverse country, home to millions of people with a first language other than English or French. Our health system functions primarily in the country’s two official languages, and this has sometimes created barriers for many in accessing vital medical services. Up until recently, a common solution was to have interpreters brought into the hospital to support the communication needs of patients. However, these services have physical limitations and sometimes, particularly for health facilities in rural and remote areas, they are not available at all.
Our team recently led a communications program to support Voyce, a company that has created a revolutionary video language interpretation app that can be used in healthcare, legal and other settings. Voyce has partnered with Trillium Health Partners (THP) to bring their virtual technology to benefit patients requiring instant language interpretation when they visit the hospital for care. The app provides virtual interpretation in 235 languages and dialects and starting this summer, it is being piloted at THP’s Mississauga Hospital’s Diagnostic Unit, marking the first time this technology has been used in a Canadian health setting.
Patients being treated in this unit will be able to speak directly with an interpreter through an iPad, who can then translate in English to their healthcare professional in real time. The company is looking to expand their technology to other hospitals, clinics and health centres across the country in the coming years. This initiative has potential to improve communication and remove barriers for many people, ultimately increasing equity in the health system across Canada.
Virtual healthcare is here to stay
As most people accessing health services over the past year know, the adoption of virtual care has skyrocketed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital health services have become a complementary tool within our public healthcare system to support both routine and specialized healthcare for Canadians and their families. As part of this shift, NATIONAL recently supported the launch of TELUS Health Virtual Care, a national primary care service for employees available through their company’s benefits plan that provides access to compassionate, 24/7 care in French and English, and many advanced employee assistance features to ensure employees are supported and can maintain improved physical and mental health and wellbeing.
In Ontario, this new virtual care service for employees is directly integrated into the province’s HRM® (Health Report Manager) report delivery system. This integration means that more informed primary care can be provided as critical patient health information is delivered seamlessly into one medical chart, so patients using this virtual care platform through their employee benefits programs will receive better continuity of care.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we are seeing shifting needs of Canada’s workforce and virtual care solutions like those from TELUS Health, will help fill in gaps and improve the way Canadians access healthcare. But we must be mindful of the limitations of these technologies. For example, many of these services emphasize Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs to triage appointments and in some cases, respond to patient health concerns. Human interaction, and the compassion and empathy that come from dealing with a healthcare professional, will continue to be important to many Canadians. Existing and emerging virtual care services will need to ensure these options are available.
Furthermore, it will be important to watch the long-term plans and policy evolution for services like virtual care as Canadians have now experienced the convenience of this technology. Governments will need to evaluate how virtual health services become part of standard healthcare continuum, and how these programs are funded as we look beyond the pandemic and a growing emphasis on sustainability of our health system.
Public health and safety initiatives renew in post-pandemic recovery
In the past year NATIONAL has been involved in vital initiatives in public health and safety. For example, in fall 2020 our team supported communications for Guelph-based Precision Biomonitoring. The testing kits provide fast results and can be paired with smartphones and other wireless devices. The development of this testing technology marked an important milestone in preventative health and safety of Canadians during the pandemic.
Precision Biomonitoring, with support from NATIONAL, is also contributing to initiatives and programs recently implemented by the Government of Canada, as well as in Ontario, where the government continues to focus on increasing testing capacity and creating safe workplaces, especially as the country is beginning to reopen for in-person interactions.
As Canada reopens, there will be many challenges and considerations in ensuring the country has an effective system in place for virus testing, particularly in light of the emerging COVID-19 variants. While testing technologies, like those of Precision Biomonitoring, provide solutions to help Canadians with rapid testing, availability of these tests and cost will continue to play a role as provinces prepare for potential new waves of COVID-19 and other similar health events in future.
We are eager to see how these groundbreaking technologies continue to inspire innovation in healthcare, public health and safety. NATIONAL will continue supporting these health technology developments, using our communications, public affairs and marketing expertise to help raise awareness and build understanding of these innovations among Canadians.
——— Nancy Dale is a former Vice-President and Practice Lead, Healthcare at NATIONAL Public Relations