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Canadian Health Care: An Rx for a Better Data Strategy

Digital health care illustration
Digital health care illustration

Population health management tools help engage patients and enable health care providers to deliver better care and highlight the need for a better health data strategy.


Digital technology has allowed businesses to build integrated solutions and use data to improve processes, create new products, and personalize customer experiences. But Canada’s health care system has yet to join this digital transformation.

“Instead, patient data is stuck in silos. For example, data regarding a patient’s primary health care, immunization record, and social determinants, all reside with different clinicians, service providers, and provincial ministries,” says Michael Billanti, Director of Population Health at Cerner Canada.

“By the time any request for data is addressed, the problem is outdated,” says Billanti. “A good data strategy ensures the data can get where it needs to go with as little intervention as possible. We need data architecture that allows us to derive intelligence at all levels — the patient level, city, region, health system, and ministry level — at the same time, so people can learn from it and act quickly and proactively. And we don’t have to all be on one system. We just have to be using the same data strategy.”

Cerner HealtheIntent small infographic

Challenges slow a national data strategy

What Billanti describes is population health management, which aims to improve the health of a population by engaging patients at both the individual and population level. Population health tools combine data to provide a comprehensive picture of each patient, giving real-time information to health care providers, administrators, and the government to identify and solve health care challenges.

While this technology exists, challenges in creating a national or provincial data strategy include variation in data governance rules and processes, the inconsistent application of privacy legislation, and an overall lack of accountability for population health.

“Across the country, there are a variety of strategies and maturity levels. Canada has lagged in adopting technology and disruptive innovations,” says Jim Shave, President of Cerner Canada, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for improved digital infrastructure and data sharing.

“In Toronto, I saw 200 people waiting in line for a COVID-19 test. If we had the data on all of those people, for example, who lives in a high-risk neighborhood, we would know who to prioritize for testing. We wouldn’t have people on the street for six hours waiting to get a test. When I see these things, it’s frustrating because I know it doesn’t have to be this way.”

The information is helping ensure the people who need extra support are receiving it and are not left behind. They can do all of this because they have the right data strategy.

Jim Shave, President of Cerner Canada

A good data strategy improves care     

For example, in the United Kingdom, the National Health Service is using the population health tool, Cerner HealtheIntent® to identify groups, such as isolated seniors and people with compromised immune systems, who must stay home due to an increased risk of COVID-19. They used this information to set up programs to ensure that they have food and medications delivered and that they have an outreach person perform health and well-being checks.

“The information is helping ensure the people who need extra support are receiving it and are not left behind,” says Shave. “They can do all of this because they have the right data strategy.”

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