How Connected is Your Health Information?

By Sukirtha Tharmalingam

What does connected health information mean to you? For me, it means that when I show up at my upcoming medical appointment with my midwife who is managing my pregnancy, she can see my latest lab test results to make sure my iron and glucose levels are in check. She can also see that I’ve recently had a wrist injury and had an ultrasound done. The ultrasound, ordered by my family doctor was conducted in a private lab. Results were sent back to my family doctor, who referred me to a sports medicine specialist for diagnosis and treatment. That is my health information connected.

It is having my health information electronically available to any health care provider caring for me.  I also hope that when I deliver my first born in a couple of months, the staff at the hospital will have access to this information. So, no matter who I am interacting with in the health care system, everyone is working from the same book and page of my health information.

Currently, my healthcare is relatively straightforward — I have no chronic conditions, I am not on any prescription medications and I see my GP for the occasional cold/flu or physical. This is not the case for many Canadians, who receive care from multiple health care providers in different settings such as family physicians, emergency departments, hospital care, specialist care, or long-term care.

Health care is now more multidisciplinary and complex than ever before. One in five Canadian adults report they take four or more medications on a regular basis.1 Nearly one-third (32%) of Canadians report having two or more chronic conditions.1  And 41 per cent of Canadians report using an emergency department for medical care in the past two years.1 These statistics demonstrate the importance of connected health information so different clinicians caring for the same patient are able to share health information in a meaningful and effective way to provide the best possible care. 

In Canada, we’ve made important progress in the implementation, adoption and use of electronic systems that digitize and connect patient’s health information across the care continuum. Canada’s strategy to digitize health care began with laying the foundational infrastructure for digital health. This consisted of investments in the creation of clinical systems to store and share patient information. The digitization and secure sharing of individuals’ lab results, diagnostic images, medications, as well as key clinical reports and immunizations has been a key driver in providing authorized clinicians across the continuum of care with an integrated view of an individual’s health care.

To date, each Canadian province and territory has implemented the foundational infrastructure for connecting health information. A majority of clinicians now have access to connected patient information. However, the method of accessing connected information does differ across provinces and territories and across different care setting and other existing electronic information systems. Connected health information is currently accessed through integration with clinical systems such as EMRs, hospital information systems and pharmacy management systems or through standalone, web-enabled viewers.

What’s important to note is that clinicians are increasingly able to view lab results, diagnostic imaging, prescription medications or immunization information for a patient regardless of who ordered/administered them and where they were conducted. Clinicians can also see notes on the types of care patients have received in different settings, such as at a hospital or with a specialist. We are beginning to see the value and impact of connected health information in primary and ambulatory care settings as well as the need to expand to other settings such as long-term care. Infoway is currently undertaking a detailed study to evaluate the impact connected health is having as clinicians become more connected to patient information from multiple clinical systems across the health care continuum. Stay tuned for the release of the Connected Health Pan-Canadian study uncovering the value of connected health information in Canada in 2018!

[1] Commonwealth Fund Survey 2016


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About the author
Sukirtha Tharmalingam

Sukirtha Tharmalingam

Sukirtha Tharmalingam is Manager of Evaluation Methods at Canada Health Infoway where she works with diverse stakeholders and partners to evaluate the impact of digital health investments.