Health Policy

People with chronic disease use email, videoconferences to manage their diseases


A significant number of people with chronic diseases were interested in using electronic communications such as email and videoconferencing to manage their conditions, reports a study published in CMAJ Open.

Most specialists live in larger urban centres, making it difficult for people who live in rural areas to access care beyond their primary care physicians.

“Given Canada’s large size and low population density, an additional barrier to optimal management for some patients is that posed by the often considerable distances to specialists,” writes Dr. Marcello Tonelli, University of Alberta, with coauthors from the Interdisciplinary Chronic Disease Collaboration (ICDC).

The study involved 1849 adults aged 40 years and older in Canada’s four western provinces – British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba – who had one or more noncommunicable chronic diseases. Of the participants, about 82% had high blood pressure, 26% had diabetes, 21% had heart disease, 8% had stroke and 32% had more than one chronic disease. About half were between the ages of 40 and 64 years, and about 60% had postsecondary or university degrees. Almost one-third were obese and about 70% were former smokers.

“The majority of western Canadians who responded to our survey were interested in using electronic technologies, especially video conferencing and email-based methods, to help manage their chronic disease,” write the authors. “Although younger patients were more likely to be interested in and able to use such technologies, there was substantial interest among those aged 75 years and older.”

About three-quarters (74%) owned a computer with Internet access or a mobile phone. Two-thirds of people were interested in using email and videoconferencing to communicate with a specialist. Text messaging (e.g., short message service) was a less popular option, with 44% interested in using the technology. As expected, younger people were more interested in using all three types of technology for communication.

“The high level of interest in these technologies suggests the need for further research into their potential benefits, especially given that less than 1% of respondents had used these technologies to access health services in the year before the survey. Conversely, given that the capacity for and interest in email and text messaging were substantially lower among people in the lowest income category (< $25 000 annually), our findings suggest that alternative strategies will be needed for this population.”

The study was funded by an interdisciplinary team grant to the Interdisciplinary Chronic Disease Collaboration from Alberta-Innovates Health Solutions.

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