Hundreds of people gathered at the national e-Health Conference and Trade show in Toronto in June 2015 to discuss some of Ontario’s most pressing health care issues and explore ways to improve the quality of patient care through technology.

The conference held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre brought together numerous speakers and experts in all areas of health care and technology. Here are three of the top themes that emerged over the conference:

1. Telemedicine

Telemedicine continues to lead the way in top trends that are improving the future of health care. Not only is telemedicine transforming the way health care is being delivered, it is addressing the issues of access (shorter wait times) and lowering costs. It is also offering more patient-centred health care programs that can be tailor-made to fit individual needs, which is especially important among today’s aging population. One example presented at the conference showed how telemedicine is making it easier for seniors to stay in their homes longer. GPS technology is being used to support people with dementia who are living in the community because it can be used to track a person’s movement. That’s important because people with dementia can be prone to wandering. Telehealth videoconferencing was the focus of another session which showed how health care professionals are using it to communicate and care for patients, especially those living in remote areas. Presenter Brendan Purdy, who is program coordinator at the University Health Network (Toronto), said telehealth videoconferencing is also saving people money because people no longer have to travel long distances to see a clinician. Instead they can talk to their clinician on a tv screen at one of the more than 1,400 telemedicine sites located across Ontario in hospitals, health centres, family health teams and community agencies.

2. Security and privacy

More than 250,000 Canadian healthcare professionals currently depend on access to electronic health information from outside their organizations to make treatment decisions, according to data provided at the conference. Keynote speaker and social media expert Kerry Murray, who transformed Yahoo Canada into the fastest growing business unit in Yahoo worldwide, said accessing electronic health information can be a double-edged sword that is “embraced by some part of the enterprise while feared by privacy and legal teams who worry about a breach or violation of privacy legislation.” Murray said in an interview before the conference that he envisions “a time when every individual carries their full health records in their coat pocket, scary as that may seem, and we are already seeing individual physicians using technology like FaceTime to provide remote care.” Moving forward, however, Murray said it’s important to recognize that some consumers may want their information freely exchanged while others won’t. Said Murray, “The key is not just security and privacy but the introduction of permission.” For now, that future seems a long way off. According to speaker Shelagh Maloney, who leads the development and execution of Infoway’s communications and marketing efforts, while 90 per cent of Canadians are interested in viewing their health results online, currently only 11 per cent are able to do so.

3. Educating the consumer

Health care apps and social media are helping people become more educated about their health and take responsibility for staying healthy. That’s the good news. Conference speaker Dr. Shafiq Qaadri, with the Ontario government, said the bad news is that while people are becoming more pro-active with their health, there still needs to be an attitudinal change among health care professionals because the current health care system is a “disease care system” that sees people after they become ill. Kerry Murray said people are not only using social media and the Internet to self diagnose themselves but some are crowd sourcing their conditions and getting feedback as to what they may or may not have.