Accessibility and E-Health Initiatives

The costs associated with health care in developed nations are already huge and continue to grow. In Canada, the total health spending per capita is around $4000. That number is higher in the U.S., where the current debate over health care reform has been framed by President Obama in terms of making the system more efficient. One major step forward is the increased use of e-health programs, which can broadly be defined as healthcare practices that are based on information technology applications. By reducing the amount of slower paper-based forms of information sharing, increasing access to current news related to the general health concerns of a state, and making it easier for patients to get medical advice without having to be in the physical presence of a physician or nurse, it is hoped that the system will become quicker, less expensive, and more accessible.

Professor Dutton, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute comments here on his blog about a website and telephone helpline set up by the UK National Health Services to serve as a gateway to information related to the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu. The website has links to various health agencies in different regions, advice about precautions to take under the current state of affairs, and even a questionnaire to aid users in diagnosing themselves. Apparently the site had crashed at one point due to the amount of traffic it received, which may be an indication of the large number of persons who would have otherwise tried to flock to hospitals or individual physicians.

In addition to increased efficiency, this initiative also serves the purpose of preventing the spread of a contagious disease by reducing the types of situations necessary for such a spread: contact with others.  However, it can be argued that measures such as these are inferior to real one-on-one meetings with trained medical professionals so that patients are not receiving the best care or advice that they ought to. To me it seems that self-assessment should be at the disposal of those who wish to use it. Despite the potential for erroneous conclusions and the costs associated with these, the reality is that there already exists a large number of websites that provide information about medical conditions, including diagnosis opinions and advice for treatment. Having a central source that is presumably more accurate due to being backed by a government would likely reduce the amount of misinformation possibly being followed.

Despite setbacks like the recent scandal in Ontario, e-health initiatives are worth it in the long run. With the costs of medical care being what they are, the shortage of physicians and nurses, and evolving larger-scale health risks such as H1N1 that can cause widespread confusion, both the Canadian government and its citizens could benefit greatly from what these programs have to offer, especially greater access to updated and reliable information. Proper treatment for our healthcare system can lead to better treatment for patients.