For many years, health care has been a rather one-sided affair. You went to your doctor's office and told her how you felt. After that, your role was mainly to fill out forms and follow your doctor's orders.
With new technology now entering the health care industry, that's all starting to change.
For many patients, the terms Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) and patient portals are new concepts, but both are part of a national change that is making health care much more interactive.
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 billing, scheduling, ordering tests and generating prescriptions.
Patient portals are a new innovation that let patients play a greater part in their own care. The portals can be used by patients to see their health records, access a list of their medications and dosage instructions, find medical forms and request prescription refills - all through a secure, online system.
Eight years ago Dr. Jay Mercer, from the Central Ottawa Family Medicine Associates was one of the earliest adopters of EMRs. Now he believes patient portals are resulting in another big improvement to patient care by allowing patients to exchange information with their doctors, including blood pressure readings, weight measurement and tracking various symptoms, all without ever leaving home.
Dr. Mercer says the difference the portal has made to his patients is dramatic.
"For example, I'm not sending an 80-year-old woman out in the middle of winter to potentially break her hip just to come to my office to check her blood pressure. She's doing it at home, feeding it to me online, and we're both getting the same results."
More than 3,000 kilometres to the west, Dr. William Haver is planning a similar move. Dr. Haver is one of 26 physicians in Saskatoon's Lakeside Medical Clinic. He began using an early version of the EMR back in 1984, when the clinic had only two doctors. He believes patient portals are the next evolution in patient care.
"Our motivation is straightforward," says Dr. Haver. "If we can create a place online where patients can come in and get the information they need at their convenience, and we can simply leave the information there at our convenience, we are improving the care they receive."
Back in Ottawa, Dr. Mercer points to how easy it is to use the portal to direct patient information to specialists to whom they are being referred. He uses a very Canadian analogy to express how well the system works.
"It's kind of like Gretzky-medicine. It's not just about scoring. It's about giving people the puck in the right position to score. If you're the specialist, I'm getting you the information to make it much easier for you to know what's going on."
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.
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