04/16/2014 01:28 EDT | Updated 06/16/2014 05:59 EDT

People with chronic conditions want to use e-tools to manage their care: study

TORONTO - A new study suggests Canadians are interested in using electronic communications to help manage their health care, though few are currently using these tools.

The study used data drawn from a Statistics Canada phone survey to assess people's willingness to use things like email and video conferencing to manage their conditions.

Nearly 1,850 adults aged 40 and older in Canada's four western provinces took part in the survey.

Two-thirds of respondents were interested in using email or video conferencing to interact with a medical specialist, but fewer than one per cent had used these tools for these purposes in the year before the survey was conducted.

There was less enthusiasm for text messaging, with only about 45 per cent saying they were willing to use that mode of communications for health-care purposes.

Three-quarters of respondents had computers and a similar percentage had mobile phones.

"The majority of western Canadians who responded to our survey were interested in using electronic technologies, especially video conferencing and email-based methods, to help manage their chronic disease," write the authors of the study, which is published in the medical journal CMAJ Open.

"Although younger patients were more likely to be interested in and able to use such technologies, there was substantial interest among those aged 75 years and older."

The study found that people were more keen to use video conferencing to consult with a specialist than to meet with a primary care doctor. People who lived outside of urban settings were more interested in video conferencing than those who were closer to urban centres, where most specialists are based.

"Given Canada's large size and low population density, an additional barrier to optimal management for some patients is that posed by the often considerable distances to specialists," writes Dr. Marcello Tonelli of the University of Alberta, the senior author of the study.

Many of the participants in the survey had chronic conditions: about 82 per cent had high blood pressure, 26 per cent had diabetes and 21 per cent had heart disease. Nearly a third had more than one ailment. Nearly a third were obese and about 70 per cent were former smokers. Roughly half were between the ages of 40 and 64 years.

The authors noted the capacity for and interest in email and text messaging were substantially lower among people earning less than $25,000 a year, a finding which suggests other strategies would be needed for that group.

The study was conducted by a group of researchers known as the Interdisciplinary Chronic Disease Collaboration. The work was funded by Alberta-Innovates Health Solutions.