Insights July 2024

Unlocking the Power of Health Data: How the Connected Care for Canadians Act Propels Canada into the Next Phase of Patient-Centred Care

Michael Green


Can access to health data really solve issues plaguing healthcare in Canada? You might be surprised.

A challenge faced by healthcare stakeholders across the country is the inability of patients to access their personal health records and the inability of many healthcare professionals to share patient records outside their own practice. This leads to administrative burden, unnecessary strain on the health system and, most critically, patients falling through the cracks.

To tackle this siloed and restricted approach to data management, Health Canada recently announced the Connected Care for Canadians Act. The Act aims to enable Canadians to securely access their own health data and improve the quality of care they receive. It is designed to accelerate the adoption of standards and prevent data blocking when health professionals are charged to access or move patient data.

The significance of this Act for healthcare in Canada cannot be overstated. It is one of the first pieces of federal legislation to directly address access to personal health data and the portability of that data between health providers. At its core, it will advance Canada’s progress toward an interoperable health system – a person-centred framework whereby patient data flows freely and securely across provinces and territories, between hospitals and healthcare providers and to patients. 

Imagine a scenario in which a patient from Vancouver, BC, travels to Toronto, ON, and receives seamless care in a Toronto clinic, with their personal health information readily accessible to the attending physician without the usual hurdles of transferring records. Or, envision a patient referred to a specialist for a serious condition, where their test results are promptly available, eliminating delays caused by current data sharing constraints.

The current systemic problems increase the risk of patient harm through potentially missed information, duplicate tests and longer wait times. Such scenarios are common in Canada, where over four in five Canadians already agree their health information should be electronically shared among all healthcare practitioners. The negative impacts of data siloes and their laborious sharing processes extend to healthcare providers. Growing patient volume, administrative burden and the health human resource crisis, all exacerbate the effects of being unable to share and access patient data as needed.  

Statistics reveal the magnitude of these issues: a report found that Canadian physicians lose 18.5 million hours a year to unnecessary administrative work, such as requesting patient records, which is equivalent to 55.6 million patient visits in time. An interoperable system would create efficiencies that mean more time for care providers to do what they do best: treat patients.

Introducing standards for data sharing stands to benefit not only patients and healthcare professionals, but Canada’s digital health industry as well. The standards introduced in the Act encourage innovation among healthcare information technology vendors by providing a clear framework for how their solutions should work within our healthcare system. Thanks to such clear standards, vendors gain confidence in the success of their solutions, which helps streamline and standardize the integration of digital health solutions. This reduces complexity and cost for vendors, enabling them to deploy their solutions more effectively across different provinces and territories, ultimately leading to improved patient outcomes through enhanced access to and quality of care.

Maintaining separate infrastructures for 14 different healthcare systems does not support a modernized and connected system. The proposed Act aligns Canada with international best practices, as seen in the US, Australia and the European Union, which have enacted similar legislation to improve connected care. Aligning the industry, especially private and public sectors, is crucial for creating a robust digital health ecosystem in which Canada’s healthcare system remains at the forefront of innovation and interoperability.

For years, Canada’s public and private sectors have partnered to establish the foundational elements required to support a continued transition to a connected care system. This progress optimally positions us to implement the solutions outlined in the Act, supporting a vision for our healthcare system where patients have seamless access to their data, where healthcare professionals can collaborate effortlessly between points of care and across provinces and territories and where innovation thrives. By fostering seamless integration between private and public sectors, the Act has the potential to propel our healthcare system into a new era of efficiency, connectivity and modernization – one that unlocks the power of health data to provide high-quality, equitable care to all Canadians, regardless of where they live. This will undoubtedly strengthen the very fabric of our healthcare ecosystem.

About the Author(s)

Michael Green is the president and CEO of Canada Health Infoway, an organization leading nationwide efforts in interoperability by collaborating with governments, healthcare providers and technology vendors to develop standards for health information systems across the country.


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