Technology is leading change in Kelowna health care

Those face-to-face medical meetings require transportation and parking…it would be cheaper and simpler to create electronic meetings.

Kelowna General Hospital

Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, so expect to see major innovations in health care in the years to come.

That’s the message Interior Health CEO Chris Mazurkewich and board chairman Erwin Malzar, brought to Kelowna city council Monday, as part of the Imagine Kelowna speaker series.

Mazurkewich told council that elderly, frail people who are in institutions or require extensive

at-home care are already a significant expense for Interior Health. If that trend carries on, when the baby boomers hit their final days and the service model doesn’t evolve, the cost could be crippling.

“Basically, four per cent of the (current) population requires about 41 per cent of the services IH provides,” said Mazurkewich.

The plus-75 age group is 10 per cent of the Central Okanagan population, according to the health authority’s figures. In 2040, it projects that population will have grown to 14 per cent.

If the proportion of people needing extra care maintains at four per cent, the cost of health care on taxpayers will balloon.

In fact, the current $2-billion budget for Interior Health is expected to nearly triple by 2040.

There are a variety of ways health authorities across the province will have to change in the years to come to get ahead of that alarming trend—and some might already be in the palm of your hand.

“Health apps are only getting better and better and better,” said Mazurkewich. “Our physicians these days, they communicate with iPhones, they send X-rays by iPhones, and all those kinds of things. That’s only going to improve.”

As that improves, he said, it only makes sense that the patient component will follow.

“If you think from a health monitoring perspective, what can we monitor at home?” he said. “I think of my mom, who is 86… I would love to have the tools at her place that we could monitor her activity. I know she’s fallen and lain there for four to five hours at a time.”

If monitoring tools were in place, they could have helped her more quickly.

Of course, technology would extend beyond merely watching.

“We have virtual physician offices already in Kelowna,” he said. “Do I really have to go to a physician’s office? I talk to my kids by FaceTime and Skype. Do I have to see a physician face-to-face every time?”

Those face-to-face meetings require transportation and parking, and it would be both cheaper and simpler to create electronic meetings.

“I think in 2040, that’s going to happen,” Mazurkewich said. “There are certain things you have to be there for in person, but most physician visits are a five-minute involvement and you don’t have to be there in person.”

Coun. Mohini Singh questioned whether seniors of the future would be keen on losing their in-person doctor visits, noting she can’t imagine going online for such a thing.

People, Mazurkewich said, simply adapt. “We hear that all the time,” he said. “My mother started using email at 80 so she could connect to her grandchildren. Now when one visits, she gets on FaceTime to call other grandchildren.”

He added the online visits would create more opportunity for family members to attend doctors appointments for their elderly loved ones, and that could make a big difference in treatment.

That said, treatment is also something that may change. “I am old enough to remember Participaction,” he said.

“I find it amazing that we know that eating, sleeping, exercising and having some friends are the best things you can do for yourself from a health care perspective,” he said.

So there should be, going forward, a bigger emphasis on health promotion and prevention.

“The problem is that it takes 10 to 15 years to see a return, but the places that have done it have all seen a return,” her said.

And, he said, Kelowna has enacted policies that will also help in those aims.

“All of those pieces I see come together in Kelowna, and I’m quite proud of Kelowna and the direction it’s been headed,” he said.

The city’s Imagine Kelowna series focuses on future trends in topics such as employment, technology, climate change and health care.