11/07/2013 07:41 EST | Updated 11/07/2013 07:41 EST

Technology Improves Healthcare, So Why Is Canada Lagging?

In my last post I examined some of the technological solutions being adopted to address the "vexing problem" of medical adherence, where patients do not follow through with their prescribed treatment. With the costs associated with nearly 50 per cent of patients not taking their medicine as prescribed, leveraging technological innovations like MyMedRec -- a smartphone app to help people manage their personal health and medication information -- has the potential to improve medical adherence and health outcomes. Technological innovations that improve adherence represent a major cost saving opportunity -- an attractive proposition, no doubt, for virtually every country in the advanced world.

This brings me to my next point on this issue: the health sector appears to be lagging in the adoption of this kind of technological innovation despite the fact that information technology and smartphones are an integral part of our daily lives. The benefits of leveraging technological advances in the health world seem abundantly clear yet Canada continues to lag behind many countries.

A study conducted earlier this year by Accenture provides some insight into how Canada compares as an adopter of electronic patient records and other health information technologies. The survey includes over 3,700 physicians in eight countries: Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Singapore, Spain and the United States.

The results showed a pronounced global uptake in the use of electronic patient records with 66 per cent of those surveyed in 2012 entering notes electronically during or after consultations up from 58 per cent in 2011. Canada continued to have the lowest overall adoption of electronic patient records at 44 per cent. More hopefully, Canada's adoption rate is catching up with the highest annual rate of growth of electronic patient records at 22 per cent.

Accenture also found that the number of physicians who e-prescribe grew globally overall from 18 per cent in 2011 to 21 per cent in 2012 with Canada experiencing no growth and remaining at 23 per cent.

These numbers are not a great surprise. Canada is generally a later adopter of technology compared to our global counterparts, whether it is Information Technology investment, renewable energy production or even newer medicines.

Should we be concerned? Yes. Early adoption of technologies is a key element to improving our productivity, transforming our economies, sustaining our health care systems and sending a signal that we want to compete and run with the best.

Jumpstarting Canada's technology adoption is a challenge with no easy answers. But I think the fact is, innovation is often driven incrementally and real change takes time -- and to our collective frustration maybe a little longer in Canada given our reticence when it comes to adopting new technologies. But transformation will eventually happen and governments and health care community must continue sending a signal that innovation is essential and will lead to change.

After all, the gains in health care outcomes and quality of life have been steady over the past few years, and the future looks even brighter. Whether it is a medicine that helps control cholesterol, a less intrusive surgical intervention, a new public health message that gets someone off their couch, or a physician contemplating a switch to electronic patient records, an innovation must be accompanied by a confidence that it will work, a determination to see it through and a willingness to make it available to the widest spectrum of users.