Patients will be the big winners as electronic information tools become more common in the practice of medicine, says Dr. John Campbell of Newfoundland’s Killick Health Services.
“Without electronic medical records [EMRs], we cannot practice the way we are supposed to nowadays, which is patient-centered, evidence-based, and with measurable outcomes,” he added. “You can only do that with an EMR.”
Dr. Campbell and his fellow clinicians at Killick were quick to adopt the technology. They found the process of migrating to an EMR-based system relatively painless, and “I don’t think any of us would ever go back to the way it was.”
“It seemed to happen naturally,” he says. “We met with all our possible partners and explored different possibilities for funding. Eventually, we spread the cost of putting the system into place equally among us.”
Doctors and other front-line caregivers hold critical medical information, and their practice is limited when they can’t share that information with other health providers, easily and effectively.
For example, an EMR could make it easier to transfer each patient’s individual health information when a physician retires. “When I took over another doctor’s practice, he had records covering 30 years of practice,” Dr. Campbell says. “Instead of having to go through a garage full of paper files, those records could now be securely stored on and transferred to a memory stick.”
Steps are also being taken to remove the paper barrier dividing clinicians across disciplines. In Spring 2005, for example, the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information (the Centre) launched a trial EMR project that integrated patient health records in four clinics.
“Our patients are involved with technology in so many aspects of their lives, and they were excited to see it now as part of their health care,” says Dr. Percy Crocker, one of the family physicians involved with the project. “The result has been more streamlined and collaborative care that brings different medical specialties together, particularly around chronic disease management.”
An initial review found that the Centre trial improved the legibility of doctors’ instructions, the efficiency of clinical practice, and the overall quality of health care. The system included a Health Level 7 (HL7) interface that communicated lab results more quickly, added them to patients’ files automatically, and improved patient safety by triggering alerts for abnormal results.
An evaluation team is evaluating the interfacing phase of the project.
Dr. Campbell says an overwhelming number of physicians will bring EMR into their practices before long. “We’re at the departure point, not the destination,” he says. “The technology is only getting cheaper, and it will get easier and easier to use. Before long, it will be everywhere.”
Dr. Campbell and Dr. Crocker have worked as peer leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador, encouraging other physicians to embrace EMR. Dr. Campbell says the health professions should take the lead in adopting the technology. “There is no greater advocate for the patient than us,” Dr. Campbell says. “We have a personal investment in [patients’] welfare, and the potential power of data to back up that advocacy is huge.”