EHRs or bust for health care system, say experts

The Ontario health care system needs electronic health records (EHRs).

That was the key message from a panel of industry experts at a Direct Engagement Inc. health care roundtable held at Rogers Communications Inc. head offices on Thursday in downtown Toronto.

“I think one of the greatest failures in the province of Ontario is the fact that we do not have an EHR,” said former Minister of Health & Long Term Care, Elizabeth Witmer, MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo.

She added governments and the health care community has tried, but still hasn’t achieved their goal.

“Regrettably we are falling behind and we need to ensure that we get on top of this, and put it in place as quickly as possible,” Witmer said.

It was a sentiment echoed by Hillary Short, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA).

“I do feel that we need to have an EHR,” she said. “There are lots of issues why it doesn’t work. It creates suspicion in the public about sharing all their health information, and having information on one card, and it’s a huge amount of money to invest.”

She noted that a lot of efforts have been made in trying to establish an EHR, and she isn’t sure why it hasn’t worked.

“I think one of the questions is: Can the federal government and the provinces come to an agreement on how to do it?”

There is also a general lack of significant progress with the establishment of an interoperable EHR, according to Allan Malek, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores (CACDS).

“It seems to me that there are significant barriers in this area and these are primarily cost, privacy and system security,” he said.

He added that it’s not all bad news, citing progress within Canada, particularly in five provinces, including P.E.I, Newfoundland, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and B.C.

Pilot projects are demonstrating the value that pharmacists have with the family health team in Ontario, and within other jurisdictions such as Alberta and Newfoundland, Malek said.

“The Ontario Pharmacists Association has partnered with Canada Health Infoway on a pilot project in Sault Ste. Marie, which utilizes the EHR in the sharing of information with the family health team.”

He added the CACDS is very actively engaged with Canada Health Infoway to help facilitate the development of the HER, as well as pharmacy information systems.

“Over all health care providers, our member’s pharmacies possess the most sophisticated infrastructure, which can and should be leveraged to create this pan-Canadian interoperable system,” he said. “I personally believe that terrific advancement in how health care is being delivered in Ontario will be made through the establishment of an EHR.”

And it is something that health care professionals agree is necessary.

“If you were to get a group of health care professionals in a room and ask them all, what would make the single biggest difference, I think they would all agree it’s the EHR,” said Short.

She said the reason they’re moving so slowly on the EHR is because it’s so expensive.

“We really need to focus on e-health, and all aspects of using technology to better improve our care.”

Learn more about e-health in Canada
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