The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way residents of British Columbia work, live and communicate. Behind the scenes, a digital health systems expert says the way we think and talk about health has also changed dramatically.
Elizabeth Borycki is a professor in the School of Health Information Sciences at the University of Victoria. His work revolves around health informatics – development, implementation and maintenance of digital technologies in healthcare such as patient records and telehealth programs.
His field has been at the forefront of new patient solutions to the challenges posed by COVID-19. From Zoom calls with family doctors to text alerts about reminders, health technology has evolved rapidly.
“There’s a lot of technology that we had in the healthcare system that is now being used more widely because of COVID,” Borycki told Black Press Media. “And there have been new technologies that have been introduced to be able to support things like social distancing.”
The number of physicians and patients familiar with virtual care increased significantly between 2019 and 2020 due to the pandemic. Nearly two years later, medical care has evolved into a hybrid system of in-person and online options.
“There’s been a real push towards introducing virtual care so healthcare professionals can still connect with vulnerable people,” Borycki said. “But you also have face-to-face visits.”
A positive outcome of this change, she added, is that patients have more choice in how they receive health services.
“A person may say they would like information presented to them in different ways… not just online, but over the phone, text or face-to-face.”
According to Borycki, two initiatives that best represent advances in patient choice are the BC Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 dashboard and its vaccine reservation system.
The latter makes getting a COVID vaccine as accessible as possible and direct communication with residents was especially vital early in vaccination efforts, she said.
“Put people in the queue, prioritize based on risk, then ask individuals to choose the form of communication they want (worked well),” she said. “We have vaccinated a large number of people in this province in a very short time. And if we didn’t have those processes in place, we might not have been able to do that effectively.
Going forward, especially with the Omicron wave challenging how officials are handling COVID, health informatics experts will need to constantly review the best ways to notify BC residents of news of the pandemic, Borycki said.
“COVID is a virus that mutates, and it changes…so we need technologies to be able to disseminate this information in a safe way, as well as to guide people to the services they need.”
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CoronavirusTechnologyUniversity of Victoria