New research suggests Canadians are open to a future in which health technologies are embraced, though concerns remain about what might happen to their most personal information.

The Ipsos poll released Thursday, conducted on behalf of the Canadian Medical Association, found 84 per cent of respondents were interested in accessing their health data on an electronic platform, while 69 per cent of respondents thought having access to such a platform would reduce medical errors.

“Canadians are ready and eager for more technology in health care,” Dr. Gigi Osler, president of the Canadian Medical Association, told CTV News.“We’re getting accustomed to using online banking,…but the health care system’s decades behind. We’ve got hospitals that still rely on pagers and fax machines, so the message is clear that Canada’s health system needs an upgrade and it’s time to modernize.”

The survey found 71 per cent of respondents envision a future of online doctor visits, with 64 per cent of them believing it would lead to faster and more convenient treatment. Technology appears to be already helping patients in Canada, as 63 per cent of respondents thought technology has improved their overall health care experience.

Three-quarters of respondents envisioned using patient portals -- a secure website in which patients can book appointments, chat with their doctor and access their health records at the click of a mouse. Four in 10 respondents said they would even pay for such a service, if it meant around-the-clock access to their doctor.

The MyChart program at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto is an example of this kind of service. Patients can use the protected site to access their electronic health record whenever they want, including lab results, progress reports and X-rays.

“Consumers are online 24/7,” said MyChart director Sarina Cheng. “They can do everything online. They can shop. They can search. They can chat. Why not health care?”

Even with these options, few have actually taken advantage. The report states these digital platforms are “vastly underutilized (or unavailable) in Canada." Just one per cent of respondents said they had used such a platform before.

“We need to look at this as a wakeup call to modernize the health care system,” Osler said. “If we don’t continue to invest in it and modernize it, then the health care system that Canadians are expecting to look after them will be even further behind.”

There are privacy concerns with these products, however, as 75 per cent of respondents feared risking their personal privacy and others also feared this technology would open the door to private health care in Canada.

Cheng said Canadians should not be worried these platforms would compromise a patient’s personal information.   

“MyChart is set up the same as online banking, so it is very secure,” she said.  “We have different layers of security.” 

Osler added that security is among the doctors’ priorities as well and that it will likely take some time before patients become comfortable with online platforms.

“The more we as Canadians spend time online -- on our computers -- we get increasingly used to sharing personal information,” she said. “As doctors our first and foremost concern is always about protecting the privacy of someone’s personal health information. As we continue to see more of this technology adopted, we have to ensure that the safeguards and policies are in place to continue to protect the privacy of someone’s health information.”

Among the other concerns: 77 per cent of respondents were worried about losing the human connection with their doctor. Osler, on the other hand, believes these technologies would actually allow for more of a human connection between patient and doctor.

“If we can use technology to take over some of the more mundane administrative tasks, it will give patients and their health care providers more time for that compassion, more time for that healing connection and that’s what people seek and that’s what people really value in their health care,” she said.

Osler also mentioned these technologies would help those living in some of the more remote areas of the country, where sometimes a flight is needed for a routine appointment.

As for the future of health care in Canada, the respondents were evenly divided about whether services will improve, worsen or remain the same. Among those who thought it would improve, most believed it would be because of technology. 

Ipsos interviewed 2,005 Canadians over the age of 18 between June 26 and July 2. The results are accurate plus-or-minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

With files from The Canadian Press