Remote healthcare: Study aims to understand how to meet Ontario francophones’ needs

A doctor appearing on a computer screen
A doctor appearing on a computer screen

University of Ottawa researchers have launched a study on Ontario francophones’ views on virtual care services, such as teleconsultations or mobile health apps, to see if they’re useful and acceptable.

This initiative is part of a research project titled Penser l'avenir des services de santé numériques avec les francophones de l’Ontario : une approche de co-design pour comprendre les usages et l’acceptabilité sociale des technologies numériques de santé.

To find out more, we interviewed principal investigator Sylvie Grosjean, a full professor in uOttawa’s Department of Communication and holder of the International Francophonie Research Chair on Digital Health Technologies.

What need does your study aim to meet?

Many government initiatives are aimed at supporting the implementation of digital healthcare services to reduce unequal access to care in Canada. Given this, various services based on technologies such as telemedicine, telemonitoring or the Internet of Things have been developed. Development of these technologies opens up many possibilities, both for patients and their families and for healthcare professionals. The technologies also seem to be solutions to many challenges our healthcare system must face, for example, unequal access to care, increased prevalence of chronic illness or an aging population.

However, use of these technologies both by patients and healthcare professionals still remains to be better documented to understand the way people use and integrate them in their daily practice.

“There has been widespread use of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic. But this has raised some questions, including with regard to communication and trust.” — Sylvie Grosjean

Your study has begun with an online survey on the social acceptance of digital health-care technologies by Ontario francophones. Why survey this group in particular?

One of the recommendations of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner (in 2018) was that we must promote the implementation of a digital health strategy that takes into account the cultural and language differences of francophone communities. A better understanding of the social and cultural determinants of the adoption of these technologies seems necessary.

As well, research has shown that Canadians who assess their own health as poor and/or who have one or more chronic illnesses are less likely to monitor their health using a smart device like a mobile app (Paré et al., 2018). Studies on social inequality in the health of francophone minorities show that this group self-declares as being in poorer health and is more affected by chronic illness (Bouchard et al., 2009), which raises the question of the risk of a digital divide and non-use of technologies by this population. It is recognized that digital health technologies can create new social inequities in health based more on social than individual factors. Thus, by studying social acceptability among francophones, we wish to better understand if there are particular issues that we should be paying attention to.

As well, enthusiasm for these technologies tends to overshadow a real taking into account of social and cultural dimensions in their design and development. Often, these technologies are developed in English, designed for an anglophone population. So, how do we take into account the needs of francophone minorities in designing and developing them? A digital health technology rejected by part of the population, dropped or questioned by another, points to a common reality in technological innovation, social acceptability.

Therefore, our project aims to document the conditions of use and social acceptability of digital health technologies among francophone minorities, because we have a duty to better document this use and also better understand why some technologies might be more accepted and used than others.

What technologies are you trying to assess?

In our study, we’ve focused our attention on these technologies, which are already in use or on track to be in the coming years:

  • Teleconsultations, which are remote medical consultations between a patient and a healthcare professional such as a doctor, physiotherapist, psychologist or speech therapist. Many technologies are used but we’re asking for francophones’ opinions on teleconsultations that use video.
  • Telehomecare, an approach to remote care and services for people living with chronic illness such as diabetes, heart failure or hypertension. Remote care allows us to monitor patients’ health status through medical devices (such as blood pressure or glucose monitors) provided to them by a healthcare team. Patients record their vital signs (for example, heartbeat, blood pressure or blood sugar) and use a tablet or computer to send the results to a nurse or other health-care professional.
  • Mobile health applications

We’re also asking for views on more specific technologies such as remote sensing of falls via mobile apps and use of chatbots in healthcare to offer advice using artificial intelligence.

Who can take part in the study?

Francophones 18 years and over living in Ontario can take part in our online survey.

For media inquiries:
Justine Boutet
Media Relations Officer
University of Ottawa
Cell: 613-762-2908