Eight years ago, Dr. Norman Yee, a family physician at Calgary's Family Health Clinic, took a critical look at the way things were done in his clinic. With industries all around him - from banks to airlines to pizza delivery operations - turning to computer systems to better manage their businesses, he decided it was time to do the same.
Dr. Yee convinced his colleagues that the clinic would benefit from implementing an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) to manage patient information.
EMRs are the modern version of a doctor's paper files. They can be used to capture important patient information - medical history, medications, X-ray results, lab results - and assist with everything around the office from billing and scheduling to ordering tests and generating prescriptions. EMRs are better for doctors and, Dr. Yee believes, better for patients. "There are significant clinical enhancements in having an EMR," Dr.Yee says. "They allow quicker, easier access to important information."
The new technology offers big advantages. "Things we could never do on the old paper systems," he says. "Who qualifies for a flu shot? Simply enter the parameters, the system searches the database and, boom, I have a list. Suppose there is a drug recall. Who's on that drug? I need to know. Enter a query and,boom, I've got a list."
Dr. Yee says his EMR has made life around the office easier too. "Physicians are largely information managers and information gatherers and archivists. Under the old paper-based way of doing things, our workflow was increasingly complex."
In a paper-based world, clinics usually need more support staff than physicians just to keep up with paperwork like filing. As a result of the EMR, The Calgary Family Health Clinic was able to double its number of doctors without adding any new support staff. For Dr. Yee and his colleagues, the main effect of the EMR has been that they have more time for those coming to the clinic for care.
"In our clinic we have seen that the EMR allows us to focus more on the specific needs of our patients."
He calls EMR the future of health care, predicting that as more clinics and providers shift to electronic information management, there will be a large shift in the way care is delivered.
"With doctors and patients able to share information back and forth with the click of a mouse, I think we're going to see management and responsibility of health care returned to the individual. Patients will expect, and receive, care that is provided in an expert and coordinated manner, and care that is performance and outcome driven. Only then, I believe, will health care truly be patient-centric and sustainable."
To learn more about the use of EMRs in Canada, read Experiences from the forefront of EMR Use, a joint publication of the Canadian Medical Association and Canada Health Infoway.