Core elements of electronic health records in place for almost half of Canadians

Benefits being realized across the country as a result of investments in EHRs

(Toronto) - As a result of investments made by Canada Health Infoway (Infoway) and its jurisdictional partners, Infoway President and CEO, Richard Alvarez reports today that the core elements of an electronic health record (EHR) are now in place for nearly half of the Canadian population (49.3%).

"We set an ambitious goal of making the core systems of an electronic health record available to authorized care providers for 50 percent of Canadians by the end of 2010. We've come very close to achieving this important milestone and estimate we'll cross this threshold in mid-2011," said Alvarez. "As a result of these efforts, systems are now in place that are delivering value to patients and clinicians from coast to coast to coast."

Funded by the Government of Canada, Infoway works with the country's ten provinces and three territories to implement secure EHR systems, enabling best practices and successful projects in one region to be shared or replicated in other regions.

Investments that Infoway and its provincial and territorial partners have made in information and communications technologies such as client and provider registries, drug information systems, lab information systems and diagnostic imaging systems are already paying significant dividends in a number of ways.

"Already we're seeing improvements in the quality of health care, reductions in wait times, avoided errors, better management of chronic diseases, and enhanced access in remote and rural communities," says Alvarez. "Patients and health care providers alike believe that knowing is better than not knowing when it comes to health care."

Examples of such benefits include:

Alberta Netcare

Alberta's Netcare was launched in 2006 and is now a leading example of an EHR deployment, both domestically and internationally. Through Netcare, over 30,000 authorized users in the province have access to information that they need to deliver better health care, including lab results, medication profiles, diagnostic imaging reports, hospital transcribed and ECG reports and immunizations.

Dr. Robert Hauptman of the Saulbus Family Medical Clinic in St. Albert, Alberta points to the availability of lab test results as an example of how Netcare has improved patient care. "By being able to see the results of lab tests or imaging, there is no duplication of tests requested. Furthermore, if you have the best information possible, you can make the best diagnostic and therapeutic decisions," says Dr. Hauptman. "In the past, you might order more tests which were unnecessary and caused the patient to wait two or three weeks for the results, when those tests might already have been done. It's important to stress that having records online allows us to provide better patient care."

Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN)

OTN is a one of the largest telehealth networks in the world, using live two-way videoconferencing and associated diagnostic equipment to bring medical expertise to some of the province's most hard-to-reach, underserved northern communities. More than 3,000 health care professionals in more than 1,000 sites across Ontario are proving that distance doesn't matter when it comes to delivering quality care. OTN is expected to deliver more than 100,000 patient visits in 2011.

"Telehomecare is very powerful technology in terms of improving patient outcomes and reducing health care costs, because it empowers patients to manage their own illnesses," says Dr. Ed Brown, CEO, Ontario Telemedicine Network. "We improve care - and patients are making fewer trips to the emergency department and being admitted to hospital less often. When you improve patient outcomes, improve satisfaction with the health care system and reduce system costs, that's very powerful technology."

Drug Information Systems

In 2010, an independent study on drug information systems showed that they are already generating $436 million worth of annual benefits due to the increased productivity of prescribers and pharmacists, improved patient compliance with medications, and gains inpatient safety. Further benefits are expected as adoption of these systems spreads, experience is gained in their use, and e-prescribing becomes more common.

"Pharmacists are seeing technology and their drug therapy expertise working in concert to transform the delivery of patient care," said Ruth Ackerman, President of the Canadian Pharmacists Association. "By providing health care professionals with the information they need to support their clinical decisions, Drug Information Systems are improving medication safety and effectiveness."

Diagnostic Imaging

A 2009 study on the benefits of the investments in diagnostic imaging identified potential cost savings and efficiencies of almost $1 billion a year. This estimate reflects improved productivity of radiologists and radiology technologists, a significant reduction in the number of patient transfers and duplicate tests, as well as the elimination of film and costly film storage requirements. For example, the evaluation report noted that system innovations could improve the efficiency of clinical decision making of referring physicians by 50-60 minutes, creating $160-190 million of pan-Canadian annual value.

Dr. Derek Younge, an orthopaedic surgeon working in Yellowknife, is a proponent of the DI/PACS system in his jurisdiction. "It's a big advancement. We can see an image as soon as it is taken and consult directly with the health centre where the patient has been taken. We can manipulate the scan in ways we couldn't do with a traditional X-ray. We can give an opinion even before an official radiology report goes out."

About Canada Health Infoway

Canada Health Infoway is an independent, not-for-profit organization funded by the federal government. Infoway jointly invests with every province and territory to accelerate the development and adoption of electronic health record projects in Canada. Fully respecting patient confidentiality, these secure systems will provide clinicians and patients with the information they need to better support safe care decisions and manage their own health. Accessing this vital information quickly will help foster a more modern and sustainable health care system for all Canadians.

For more information about Canada's efforts to implement information and communications technologies in health care, please visit the Knowing is Better section of our website. To see how EHR initiatives are improving health care delivery for Canadians from coast to coast to coast, read about this EMR success story.

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For more information contact:

Karen Schmidt
Director, Corporate/Internal Communications
Canada Health Infoway
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