Patients looking for more flexibility in how they connect with their family doctor have another tool at their disposal as the Calgary Foothills Primary Care Network is rolling out a network-wide secure email program for its member physicians.

Privacy legislation protects confidential health information. As conventional email doesn’t meet regulations, patients, doctors and clinic staff are left to rely on phone calls and snail mail. With support from Alberta Innovates and its ImplementAB.digH program, Calgary Foothills PCN — a network that supports family doctors through a team of health professionals, programs and services — is adding Calgary-based Brightsquid’s Secure-Mail to the options available to our doctors.

The need for more avenues of communication was brought into sharp focus during the COVID-19 pandemic as health guidelines restricted visits. Additionally, patients’ ability to see their family doctor was hampered by socio-economic factors, such as lack of childcare, limited access to transportation or employment obligations. Even with the pandemic entering a new phase and restrictions lifting, there is a desire to continue to have a virtual care option.

Brightsquid’s Secure-Mail — which meets Alberta regulations for privacy and ensures patient information remains confidential — is a web-based system that looks and feels like regular email. It can be used on any browser, smartphone or tablet.

“Virtual care is here to stay, so there is a need for electronic communications,” says Calgary Foothills PCN medical director Dr. Janet Reynolds.

“Secure messaging won’t replace the need for appointments. However, the option to send emails to patients with results or follow-up resources, receive replies to book appointments or communicate with other health team members about requisitions and results enhances our ability to care for our patients.”
Along with opening the lines of communication between patients and family physicians, the secure-mail system allows doctors to connect with other members of a patient’s health team, such as pharmacists, nurses and specialists.
Research shows patients who have a continuous relationship with a family doctor and team are healthier, live longer and are hospitalized less.

Raja Mita, Executive Director, Health Innovation says Alberta Innovates is thrilled to be working with the Calgary Foothills PCN to positively enhance the lives of patients in Alberta.
“We believe that digital health technologies will play a key role in transforming models of care to be more effective, efficient and patient centric,” Mita says.

Patients looking for more options

“It feels like you’re more engaged and connected to your doctor’s office,” says Paul Ghazar, a patient in the Calgary Foothills PCN who has been using the secure e-mail tool to book appointments for himself and his family and provide health information before meeting with his family physician.

“We haven’t found a limit to its use. It’s just like emailing your doctor.”

Other patients have also used the secure email option to send information and photos in advance of appointments, as well as get prescription refills without needing to visit the doctor’s office and receive test and lab results.

According to the Canadian Medical Association, patients are looking for more virtual health care options — including email — going forward. A survey conducted in 2020 showed 38% of respondents would choose phone, video conference, email or text over an in-person consultation for the first point of contact with a doctor.