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Supporting older Canadians to live healthier, more independent lives through technology

Personal · Oct 1, 2022

This article was re-posted with the permission of Canadian Healthcare Technology. It was originally published in the News and Trends of the September 2022 issue.


With National Seniors’ Day on October 1, it’s an excellent time to reflect on how we can collectively better support one of Canada’s most vulnerable demographics – those over 65 years old. This group, expected to grow by 68 per cent over the next 20 years, requires more healthcare support than any other in Canada. While hospitals and care facilities meet some of their needs, providing older people with high-quality healthcare support outside of these facilities can go a long way in empowering them to live more independently.

That is a prime focus for companies like TELUS Health, as we reimagine how care is delivered and experienced by older Canadians. When ageing, they may experience limited mobility, increased social isolation and often need more support at home. Digital technology and virtual healthcare services are well suited to fill those needs, with more accessible options and easier connections to health professionals that will help them better control their health journey.

Leveraging digital health technology

Designing the right tools for the right job is key, especially when it comes to serving the growing needs of older Canadians looking to proactively manage their own wellness and stay as active as they can. Everyone should have access to the best possible care, wherever and whenever it’s needed, regardless of age, status, socioeconomic situation or location. But it can’t be done alone.

Partnerships with leading Canadian research think tanks like Toronto Metropolitan University’s National Institute on Ageing (NIA), focused on the experiences and needs of ageing Canadians, help us enhance our knowledge of the challenges faced by this age group. It is through collaboration with organisations like the NIA that we gain crucial insights on how and why technologies can better support independent ageing.

Statistical realities show the need to reorient thinking towards virtual tools, especially for ageing Canadians. Not only has there been a significant shift towards digital technology due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we also note a growing trend of Internet and smartphone use among Canadians aged 65+. A recent AGE-WELL poll conducted by Environics Research in July 2020 shows that two-thirds (65%) of Canadians aged 65 and older now own a smartphone, compared to 58% in 2019, and 83% of them use it daily. In 2022, we can be certain that this number has continued to rise.

Filling the gap with digital technology and virtual care

Virtual care is a broad term that encompasses many easily-accessible digital services that allow two-way interaction between the patient and the health professional without being physically in the same room.

One such service available via smartphone app is TELUS Health Virtual Pharmacy. In addition to filling prescriptions online, the online service offers one-on-one video or phone consultations with a Canadian-licensed pharmacist about medications, side effects and/or lifestyle changes. No need to be a pro with technology; it just as easily allows others - adult children, grandchildren or caregivers - to refill medications and book appointments on the patient’s behalf. This service is paired with MedPack, which organises the patient’s medications by date and time in individually-sealed packs to improve adherence, ideal for older people who take multiple medications on a regular basis.

The virtual medical consult is another service available through a smartphone. TELUS Health MyCare, a free app on your smartphone, offers virtual consultations with a locally licensed physician across Canada providing convenient and powerful options for older Canadians with mobility issues and especially for those in rural or remote communities with limited options.

Virtual services are excellent options for preventative care, but are not appropriate for emergencies, especially a slip-and-fall. That’s where tools such as personal emergency response systems (PERS) take their place. Unfortunately, there remains a significant disconnect between the availability of PERS and information getting to the patients who may need them. A recent MD Analytics Survey has shown that 89 per cent of healthcare professionals (HCPs) are unlikely to discuss PERS unprompted because they don’t know enough about them. Considering that nearly one in three older Canadians experience a serious fall every year, it’s crucial that healthcare professionals understand and proactively inform their patient about the tools that are available to them so they are better supported to live independently. As an example, TELUS LivingWell Companion is a wearable device that connects the user to specially trained operators when the device is activated for a health emergency, either manually, or automatically if the optional fall detection is activated. The service is available across Canada in multiple languages as an in-home or on-the-go device.

More and more people want to stay in their home as long as they can. Services such as Home Health Monitoring (HHM) is a good example that can support independent living and ageing in place. British Columbia Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) currently offers this service as part of a community paramedicine program that virtually connects paramedics and physicians with patients living with complex conditions like diabetes or hypertension. Paramedics set up equipment in patients’ homes and teach them to monitor their own blood pressure, blood glucose, or other data, which is then sent from a tablet to a community paramedic. The paramedic works with physicians, often far from the community, to monitor progress and make any necessary treatment changes.

There is still enormous room for technology to evolve as this age group grows. TELUS Health continues to drive its team to do its part in increasing access to healthcare and bringing it directly to Canadians of every generation. National Seniors’ Day is a potent reminder of the importance of that work.

Authored by:
Juggy Sihota
Vice-president, Consumer Health