Digital imaging network a milestone for e-health in Canada

Tillsonburg’s Triumph – View the Webcast

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A picture or a ritual, it is said, is worth a thousand words. And that’s certainly true of a quaint little ritual held last Thursday at Tillsonburg District Memorial Hospital (TDMH) in south western Ontario.

It was a ceremonial cutting of a sheet of film by Rob VanDoninck – the hospital’s diagnostic imaging service coordinator. The action took a few minutes. but it symbolized an e-health milestone that will have an impact for many years to come: the transition from film to digital diagnostic imaging in a group of hospitals in Ontario’s Thames Valley district.

Tillsonburg is the first of six Thames Valley community hospitals to connect to a shared digital imaging network that will link six community hospitals with one another and with two teaching hospitals in London, Ont. – London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care.

Together the hospitals are part of what has come to be called the Thames Valley Hospital Planning Parntership (TVHPP). The five other TVHPP are Alexandra Hospital in Ingersoll, Four Counties Health Services in Newbury, St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital, Strathroy-Middlesex General Hospital and Woodstock General Hospital.

Their digital linkage with London’s two teaching hospitals is expected to transform how patient diagnostic images are recorded, transmitted and reviewed and patient care is delivered. For instance, in a matter of seconds, specialists at London’s teaching hospitals will be able to view diagnostic images taken at Tillsonburg hospital, and consult realtime with Tillsonburg physicians.

According to one Tillsonburg physician, this is already happening. Dr. Barry Roth, who provides some of the emergency service coverage at TDMH, in a letter written to the hospital, describes how the new technology is speeding up diagnosis and treatment. “Over the week there was a patient in the emergency department who was in a motor vehicle accident. X-rays were completed and I called the orthopedic department in London,” the letter says. “The orthopedic surgeon was able to view the images taken here at TDMH through their clinical work station. Together we discussed and diagnosed a fractured femur that required surgery. The patient was transferred to London the next day. And here in Tillsonburg, I was able to view the images following the surgery in London. The regional digital imaging project certainly allows us to provide quality patient care by accessing timely referrals, treatment and follow up.”

It is the hope of all eight hospitals involved in the project that the digital diagnostic imaging project will inspire other such collaborative initiatives in Canada and across the world.

This was the vision articulated by Diane Beattie, integrated vice-president and chief information officer of information management, at London Health Sciences Centre and St Joseph’s Healthcare – two London,Ont.-based hospitals that are part of what has come to be known as the Thames Valley Hospital Planning Partnership.

“This is – for all of us – is a model that will be used and replicated both nationally and internationally,” Beattie said. “As we’ve gone through each step of the project we’ve had challenges. But each time we’ve come up with a creative solution, a little different way of looking at things…and we’ve learned.” She said all lessons learned are being documented so as the pilot project rolls out across the country, other healthcare facilities could benefit from them.

Financing provided by Canada Health Infoway and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term care has helped get the project off the ground. Infoway is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative whose mission is to speed up the development of electronic health records across Canada. It reimburses projects as predetermined milestones are completed.

According to Beattie, it will take around $35 million to connect the two large teaching hospitals (London Health Sciences and St. Joseph’s Healthcare) and the six community hospitals. “Another $15 million will be needed “to upgrade modalities so that we can go filmless,” she said.

TVHPP is a first for Ontario, and also one of the largest of its kind in Canada. Plans are also underway to expand the project to other southwestern Ontario hospitals, making this one of the largest shared services digital imaging projects in the world.

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