It is a nightmare scenario for any family physician: failing to order a test for a patient, and finding out later that something important got missed as a result.
That very nearly happened to Dr. Tom Bailey.
The Victoria doctor had a patient who developed a bleeding malignant polyp. It might well have gone undetected for a dangerously long time if it hadn't been for Dr. Bailey's Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system. Dr. Bailey's EMR provided an alert suggesting this particular patient should probably be given a particular type of test.
The test was given, the polyp was found and it was successfully removed.
"That would never have happened if we weren't using the EMR," says Dr. Bailey. "I would not have thought of doing that test. Having the EMR checklist suggesting certain kinds of screening for certain types of patients made a huge difference."
EMRs are the modern version of a doctor's paper files and an important component of Canada's plan to make the health information of Canadians available to health professionals electronically. 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.
In the case of Dr. Bailey and his colleagues, they have found their EMR to be particularly helpful managing the health of patients with chronic diseases like diabetes. Among other things, they have found the EMR helps ensure patients with chronic disease are receiving care and attention on a regular basis.
"We were not doing a good job, for example, of identifying the significant portion of our patients with diabetes who simply never came in for checkups. They were being lost in the shuffle," says Dr. Bailey. "With the EMR, we are reminded to remind them to get in here. And for those patients, it's made a big difference because they understand that we care, we're involved, and we want to work with them to help them manage their diabetes."
In her clinic on the other side of the country, New Brunswick doctor, Jeanne McNeill understands exactly what Dr. Bailey is talking about. Dr. McNeill installed an EMR in her solo Moncton practice five years ago, specifically to help her better manage patients with chronic diseases.
She calls the decision to move from paper to EMR a "no brainer".
"It is just so helpful, particularly with chronic disease management, to be able to track patients' blood pressures over time, their cholesterol over time, their blood sugars over time, and have an accurate medication list. That is all information I need to give them better care, and with an EMR I have it at the click of a mouse."
To learn more about the use of EMRs in Canada, please go to Experiences from the forefront of EMR Use, a joint publication of the Canadian Medical Association and Canada Health Infoway.