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How digital health technology is helping families stay together

November 30, 2017

Blogger Christine McNaughton shares how innovations in health care are allowing her aging parents to stay happy and healthy in their remote Ontario community.

Christine McNaughton is no stranger to the digital world. Her warm stories and cozy images of family, food and farm life in northern Ontario have earned her a fan following of tens of thousands across a blog, Twitter and Instagram.

But it wasn’t until earlier this year McNaughton really began to appreciate the full potential of how technology could impact her life.

“It’s been a wild year,” says McNaughton of the serious health issues her family have recently endured.

Firmly a member of the “sandwich generation”, McNaughton is a caregiver to both her young daughter, affectionately known online as Little One, and her aging parents, who she’s nicknamed Lola (meaning “grandmother” in Tagalog) and Grampy.

Her father’s health was already a serious concern following two heart attacks and a stroke. When her mother’s health also began to deteriorate, McNaughton began to wonder if the time had come for Lola and Grampy to move to a more urban setting hours away from their home on Manitoulin Island, which is located on Lake Huron about 565 kilometres north of Toronto.

“We do have hospitals and excellent physicians, but I worried about specialist health care and how we would manage being this far away,” she says.

The level of care her mom received from the comfort of her home, however, changed her mind, as the family experienced firsthand the advantages of modern digital health care. TELUS, for instance, has invested $1.6 billion since 2000 into technologies that virtually connect patients to the doctors, specialists and critical medical services they need.

Doctors on Manitoulin are among those who now use electronic medical records (EMRs) to send and receive patient information over their laptop, tablet or smartphone. New EMR features, such as MedDialog, give physicians the ability to securely pass medical records to other physicians. Better collaboration between doctors means significantly fewer trips for Lola to visit specialists. Across the health care industry, better digital communication between consulting medical teams is resulting in nearly 40 per cent fewer patient in-person referrals between doctors and specialists.

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Grampy, Little One and Lola take a walk on Manitoulin Island. Supplied

Lola is also able to receive the care she needs at home with TELUS’ Home Health Monitoring technology, which enables patients with chronic conditions – such as congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, asthmas and hypertension – to monitor key health indicators and share the information electronically with their consulting physicians, wherever they may be located. Once a patient is referred to the program, he or she is paired with a clinical care team that is able to track and adjust treatment as necessary, as well as provide support and health guidance for the patient.

In Lola’s case, she has two electrodes that attach to her chest to monitor her heart rate and the data is transmitted via a smartphone to specialists in Sudbury.

Though the process may sound quite technical, McNaughton says the digital equipment is easy to use — even by patients, such as her mother, who are not comfortable with modern devices.

“My mom doesn’t even have a computer,” she says. “But, in this case, because I trust the technology, it made it easier for her to trust it as well. She has even uttered the words that ‘I’m right’, so that’s a good sign.”

Lola continues to go off-island to see a specialist once or twice a year, as does McNaughton’s father. Otherwise, the family is able to stay together – without sacrificing their health.

“It gives me great peace of mind,” says McNaughton.

McNaughton recently returned to the digital sphere herself to share her family’s health journey in a blog post.

“Witnessing my own family physician using this technology firsthand, and then my mom – I realized that the future of digital health is bright,” she wrote. “We should all advocate for better health care with our doctors so using our smartphones for our personal health becomes as popular as using it for blogging or shopping.”


This story was translated from the original version that was first published in the Financial Post on November 13, 2017 during Digital Health Week.