“To infinity, and beyond.”—Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story
Access to health care, especially for patients living in rural and remote areas, has been brought into sharper focus over the last few years by health professionals, patients, organizations involved in health care delivery and management, and all levels of government. With the rapid evolution of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their global applications in commerce, technology-enabled health applications are generating great interest as part of the solution to health care problems. The boom in telehealth and health informatics research seen in the literature attests to this interest.
Recent reports of provincial, federal, and health organization task forces, including those led by Romanow, Kirby, Mazankowski, Clair and Fyke, and the College of Family Physicians of Canada, have all identified the importance of this issue for the Canadian health care system. One of the major potential solutions that all these reports highlight is the deployment of telehealth—the use of ICTs such as videoconferencing and the Internet for the delivery of clinical services and health information to patients. All levels of government are investing heavily in telehealth technologies and initiatives, including the federal government, which invested $80 million to establish the Canadian Health Infostructure Partnerships Program in 1999, $500 million to create Canada Health Infoway Inc. in 2000, and $600 million to help Infoway support national electronic health record and telehealth initiatives in 2003. The political will and the commitment to drive telehealth are unmistakably benefiting the health domain.
With the emerging importance of telehealth in our Canadian health care delivery system, physicians and nurses need to familiarize themselves with the use of ICTs for service delivery and peer communication and consultation. Health professionals need to understand the advantages and limitations of ICTs and blend this understanding with their health expertise and perspectives in order to maximize the efficacy of telehealth services and to meet the expectations of patients and the governments that represent them.
This theme issue presents a snapshot of the current applications of ICTs in health care delivery, including the use of technology in clinical consultations, clinical decision support, and electronic medical records. This qualitative look at the spectrum of technology-enabled health applications is not meant to be comprehensive; instead, it is meant to highlight and celebrate the ingenuity and innovation of our health profession collectively as it meets the challenges and needs of our health care system with existing and emerging technological solutions.
It is certain that when readers of the future look back to this issue several years from now, many of the innovative applications highlighted here will have become commonplace while others will be considered outmoded. Thus, this issue is meant to be one of the signposts on our journey to develop technology-enabled health applications—a placeholder for future generations to reflect upon and surpass.
—Kendall Ho, MD
Associate Dean and Director,
UBC Faculty of Medicine
1. Ho K, Chockalingam A, Best A, et al. Technology-enabled knowledge translation: Building a framework for collaboration. CMAJ 2003; 168:710-711. PubMed Citation Full Text
2. Yellowlees P. Government relations, government regulations: Jumping through the hoops. J Telemed Telecare 2002; 8(suppl 3):83-85. PubMed Abstract Full Text
3. Ho K. Telemedicine: Where is its rightful place in the medical profession? BCMJ 2000;42:249-250. Full Text
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