Canadians eager for more virtual, mobile health care solutions

Apps like Bant (shown above), a free app under development by the University Health Network in Toronto, allow Type 1 diabetes patients monitor their blood sugar levels to help manage their condition. Nicole Bogart/Global News

TORONTO – After suffering from insomnia since childhood Julie Hewitt turned to her smartphone for help with her mounting sleep problems, unable to find a full-time family doctor where she lived.

Tired of relying on walk-in clinics and frustrated that she didn’t have a doctor to do a full case history on her condition, Hewitt downloaded an app for her Samsung smartphone called “Sleep as Android” that allowed her to track her sleep cycle and analyze her insomnia patterns.

She believes it has not only helped improve her sleeping patterns, but helped her to better understand her condition.

“It’s been great to see periods of time where I’m “awake” or tossing and turning. I might not have been fully aware, but the sleep tracking app shows a lot of movement in spots,” Hewitt told Global News via email.

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“When I’m going into an insomnia cycle where I’m sleeping less each night, the app lets me narrow down the times that seem to constantly be an issue.”

Hewitt is one example of a growing number of Canadians who are turning to mobile and virtual health options to improve their health care experience..

Read More: High-tech hospital reaping the benefits of using gadgets to help patients

According to a new report from PwC Canada, almost half of Canadians believe that mobile health apps will make health care more convenient over the next three years.

The report, called “Making Care Mobile: Shifting perspectives on the virtualization of health care,” found that people were drawn to virtual health options in order to address issues like more convenient access to a doctor, greater control over one’s health and the ability to better manage a specific health condition.

Over 2,000 Canadians participated in the study over three weeks to help answer the question, “What does the future of health care delivery look like?”

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Turns out, Canadians think the future of health care is in the palm of their hands – on their smartphones, tablets and computers.

Sara Nita, mother to Marcus – a seven-year-old Type1 Diabetes patient, has been using various smartphone apps to keep track of her son’s blood sugar levels for over a year. The Ottawa-based mother and Type 1 Diabetes advocate credits technology for helping manage her son’s illness.

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“His father and I can share data back and forth between our phones via screen shots rather than keeping a paper log which would travel back and forth between our houses each week,” Nita told Global News.

“I can see a major benefit for others that have a chronic illness where they need to keep track of their information. Having it easily accessible from our phones for our health care providers would be very beneficial since most of us carry our phones everywhere.”

But finding an app that suited her son’s needs wasn’t easy at first.

Most of the Diabetes apps that Nita could find were designed in the U.S., where the level of glucose in the blood is displayed mg/dL (milligrams/deciliter) rather than the world standard reading of mmol/l (millimoles/liter).

Then Nita discovered Bant – a free app under development by the University Health Network in Toronto.

Bant is aimed at patients between the ages of 12 to 15 suffering from Type 1 Diabetes. The app connects with the patient’s blood sugar monitor to help manage their condition.

“The main reason why I stuck with the Bant App was that it was Canadian made and it displayed his readings in mmol/l (millimoles/liter) rather than the American mg/dL (milligrams/deciliter) – which would have required me to multiply his blood glucose readings by 18 at each entry and defeated the purpose of making life easier,” said Nita.

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Though the app needs a few more tweaks, said Nita, it has a lot of features that make it easier to keep track of Marcus’ blood sugar range, as well as social media features that helps Nita to connect with others in the diabetes community.

Read More: 10 health apps recommended by experts

The data in PwC’s study speaks volumes when it comes to Canadians’ interest in mobile care.

Almost two thirds of participants noted that they would consider using an app that would allow them to capture and send a photo of a skin condition to their family doctor for assessment.

And while 48 per cent of patients believe that mobile heath will improve the quality of health care, the study found that 59 per cent of doctors believe that while mobile health is inevitable, adoption will take time.

The future of mobile heath, or mHealth as PwC calls it, will hopefully see health care organizations start to develop ways to provide doctors with a list of apps that have been tested and approved by patients.

PwC also notes that with the progression of mHealth will also bring an organized approach to the regulation of health apps –similar to how medication is regulated in drugstores.

This could bring more opportunity for developers to come up with innovative health apps – and those who are already on the mHealth bandwagon recognize that there is room for improvement.

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“A secure mobile app that allows a patient/parent to alert hospitals that we have no refills left would be great. In turn, the hospital could send the new prescription to the pharmacy where we get our prescriptions filled, would take a load off of my mind,” Nita suggests.

“There have been times when the pharmacy was supposed to fax the hospital to get a new prescription but never got around to it. When it comes to life saving medical treatment, there needs to be an easier way to receive quicker refills rather than waiting 24-48 hrs.”

Other key findings of the report noted that Canadians would like to see more modern communication methods used by their practitioners.

79 per cent of patients reported that they would use an email service with their doctor and 24 per cent of patients expressed interest in using virtual monitoring for things like follow up visits.

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