Digitally savvy Canadians who make up the so-called Google Generation are on the leading edge of a transformation in the health care system that will see a greater reliance on technology, including how doctors interact with their patients, a survey commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) suggests.
The Ipsos survey, released Tuesday, shows that adults aged 18 to 34 are frequent users of the health care system, reporting an average of at least 11 visits to a physician each year, as well as being the most eager adopters of technology to manage their own health.
“I think this generation that they’re calling the Google Generation is already very comfortable with technology,” Dr. Gigi Osler, incoming president of the 85,000-member CMA, said from Winnipeg.
“They have grown up with it, they’ve grown up using it, and hence are more comfortable seeing more technology in the health care system, more technology use as part of their own personal health care,” said Osler, an ear, nose and throat specialist.
“They’re about wellness care, not just sick care.”
Dr. Gigi Osler, incoming president of the Canadian Medical Association, says young adults have grown up with technology and want to see more of it in the health care system. (Nigel Jones/Handout photo/Canadian Press)
The survey found respondents among the Google Generation would be more likely to take advantage of virtual doctor visits — 47 per cent would opt for at least half of their visits being virtual, compared to 38 per cent of those aged 35 to 54, and 31 per cent of those 55-plus.
These young adults are more likely than Canadians in the older age brackets to use wearable technology such as FitBits or to use online apps to monitor their health status — 44 per cent, compared to 28 per cent and 14 per cent for the other age groups, respectively.
“They’re looking at how to be better informed about how to stay healthy — and, if they do get sick, how to get better,” said Philip Edgcumbe, an MD-PhD student at the University of British Columbia and a consultant on technological innovation in health care.
“And this is because the whole landscape of health care is changing as a result of the development of the internet and the mobile phone,” Edgcumbe, 29, said from Vancouver.
“The bottom line is the Google Generation is on the leading edge of this transformation into newly empowered patients and health-literate patients.”
That’s not to say that middle-aged and older Canadians don’t appreciate the benefits that technology could bring to health care, the survey suggests.
Overall, seven in 10 respondents said they would take advantage of virtual physician visits, with many believing they would be more convenient as well as leading to more timely and better care.
Artificial intelligence concerns
About half of all respondents said they would likely wear a mobile device that would continuously monitor their health, keeping track of such vitals as blood pressure and heart rate, detect the presence of toxins in the environment and create a personal warning system when health measures are out of the normal range.
Roughly 70 per cent agreed that incorporating more technology into personal health care could prevent illnesses, and 64 per cent said that, given a choice, they would go to a physician who incorporates more technology into their practice.
And while 60 per cent said they were excited about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) in the delivery of health care, they would only trust a diagnosis if it was provided by a doctor.
Despite support for AI and technology in general, roughly two-thirds of all respondents were concerned about privacy and protection of personal health data, including worries that the privacy and ethical implications of AI had not been fully thought out.
About the same proportion were worried about the potential loss of the human touch and compassion as a result of AI and the digitization of heath care delivery and the accuracy of diagnoses.
“We’re also excited, happy to see that despite this willingness to adopt technology, they don’t want to lose the human connection, they don’t want to lose that personal touch as well,” said Osler, who will be inducted as the 2018-19 president during the CMA’s annual meeting in Winnipeg next week.
The Ipsos Internet survey of 2,003 Canadians aged 18 and older was conducted May 16-18 and has a plus-minus 2.5 percentage point credibility interval 95 per cent of the time.
With files from CBC News
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