The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how B.C. residents work, live and communicate. Behind the scenes, one expert in digital health systems says the way we think and talk about health has shifted drastically, too.
Elizabeth Borycki is a professor in the School of Health Information Science at the University of Victoria. Her work revolves around health informatics – developing, implementing and maintaining digital technologies in healthcare such as patient records and telehealth programs.
Her field has been at the forefront of new patient-facing solutions to problems posed by COVID-19. From Zoom calls with family doctors to text alerts about booster shots, health technology has evolved rapidly.
“There are a lot of technologies that we had in the healthcare system that are now being used more extensively 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 jumped significantly between 2019 and 2020 because of the pandemic. Nearly two years later, medical care has evolved into a hybrid system of in-person and online options.
“There was a real push towards bringing in virtual care so that health professionals could still connect with vulnerable individuals,” Borycki said. “But you also have face-to-face visits taking place.”
A positive outcome of this shift, she added, is that patients have more choice in how they receive healthcare services.
“A person can say that they’d like to have information presented to them in different ways … not only online, but by phone, or through texting or face-to-face.”
Two initiatives Borycki said best represent advances in patient choice are the B.C. Centre for Disease Control COVID-19 dashboard and its vaccination booking system.
The latter makes getting a COVID vaccine as accessible as possible and communicating directly with residents was especially vital at the onset of vaccination efforts, she said.
“Getting people into queue, prioritizing based on risk and then having individuals choose what form of communication they want (worked well),” she said. “We immunized a huge number of people in this province in a very short period of time. And if we didn’t have those processes in place, we might not have been able to effectively do that.”
Moving forward, especially with the Omicron wave challenging the way officials handle COVID, health informatics experts will have to consistently revisit the best ways to tell B.C. residents pandemic news, Borycki said.
“COVID is a virus that is mutating, and it’s changing … so we need technologies to be able to disseminate that information in a safe manner, as well as to guide people to the services they need.”
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