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The use of a smartphone has increased dramatically in recent years, but the data it provides is still limited, according to a new report from Health Canada.
The federal government’s digital health strategy calls for greater use of mobile technology, with new ways to collect and analyze medical data, and for more robust data protection and privacy protections.
“The potential for privacy and data protection breaches is real and is increasing in a number of ways,” said Dr. John Wetherington, lead researcher for Health Canada’s digital strategy, which is currently being reviewed by the department’s science and technology committee.
“Health Canada has a long-term strategy for this, but we need to be careful about what we’re doing.”
A study of more than 100,000 hospital records showed that patients and caregivers are using mobile phones and computers in more than 20 per cent of cases.
The study also found that health-care professionals are using social media to communicate with patients, but this is only in very limited cases.
“We’re trying to get to the point where health-services providers are able to use smartphones and laptops in a way that’s consistent with the standards and protocols that are in place for a health-service provider,” said Health Canada spokesperson Jennifer Deacon.
“It’s important to note that, while this is not a standard practice for all health-systems, this is a relatively common practice for many of them.
The health-access framework that we have for mobile health-devices also is based on standards and guidelines developed for health-centre networks, which are based on a set of rules that we call the HIPAA Privacy and Security Standard.”
Health Canada is working on new privacy standards and a privacy toolkit, and the digital strategy will be discussed in Ottawa this week.
In addition to the digital health framework, Health Canada is also reviewing how the federal government should approach its health-provider-patient relationship, and is also studying ways to make mobile devices safer and more secure.
Health Canada says mobile phones are increasingly used by patients and their families.
It also notes that patients are more likely to report a healthcare-related incident on mobile devices than in person.
Health Canada estimates that there are 2.5 million Canadians on mobile phones at any given time, and there are more than 5.6 million mobile phones in use in Canada today.
A few years ago, health-technology companies such as Huawei and Motorola were developing mobile phones, but as Health Canada reported, the technology was still too limited for patients and families to use them.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced a number last year to increase mobile access for patients, and this year, Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins has proposed the creation of a national mobile-device security task force to review existing security practices and develop guidelines for how health-tech companies can improve security.
“Health-care systems need to adopt technologies that are secure, reliable, and adaptable to meet evolving technology demands,” said Hoskins.
“The security of the electronic health record is critical to this goal.”
Health-tech firms, however, are not the only ones trying to use mobile technology to make a difference.
The Canadian Medical Association is urging all physicians to consider using a smartphone when delivering patient care, and Health Canada has launched an education campaign about mobile health.
Health Minister John Duncan says the government’s online health information portal is a great place to get a glimpse into how healthcare professionals are responding to technology.
“What we’re trying are to get into the mindset of the health-industry, the health professionals, the medical schools, to get them to understand the importance of their work, the importance to them of getting the data that they need to do the right things,” he said.