Digital Health, Public Policy, and Covid-19:

By: Tasneem Mewa

In December 2021, Canadian International Council, Toronto Branch hosted a series of virtual fireside chat panels with key voices in Canadian health public policy to discuss the role, challenges, and opportunities for digital health technology in the age of COVID-19.  Recently in discussion were Tim Murphy (Vice President – Health, Alberta Innovates) Dr. Ewan Affleck (former CMIO, Northwest Territories), and Anthony Ilukwe (Head of Product at ARINA Live/XC).

The panelists discussed how the pandemic has pushed public health care systems and institutions to their limits around the globe. Mass disruptions due to the outbreak itself alongside policies implemented to reduce transmission have in turn revealed glaring inequalities and disparities. Now, the temporary tabling of face-to-face patient consultations and care have produced equity-gap filling opportunities for digital healthcare innovation and its accelerated its integration into the Canadian healthcare ecosystem.

However, the restructuring and adaptation process is inherently complex; our speakers indicated steep challenges in ensuring privacy, countering cybersecurity threats, establishing infrastructure for data storage and dissemination, streamlining expense procurement processes, establishing regulations and standardized management/accountability procedures.

Federalism in Canada further heightens efforts to establish and regulate a common standard for e-health services which becomes particularly evident when seeking to substantiate solutions for disproportionately impacted and uniquely situated groups.

The need to keep patient-centric care at the heart of digital health innovation and the facilitation of public policy to govern these newly integrated services is increasingly evident. Canada’s value-based healthcare system is well situated to lead digital health innovations in alleviating existing burdens catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic and further support the proliferation of digital infrastructure to better equip systems around the world in their ability to take decisive action on the next unprecedented health crisis.