Of IT and the MD

It’s not new, really. It’s “enhanced.” And it’s supposed to make physicians think IT.

OntarioMD.ca, originally launched in November 2003, is in the late stages of an overhaul that insiders describe as a paradigm shift.

The goal, however, will be unchanged: To encourage physicians to adopt IT solutions in their practices.

The overhaul will also locate OntarioMD.ca in the private sector. For the past 18 months, it’s been a creature of OntarioMD, which operates as a subsidiary of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) and is the delivery mechanism of its Physician IT program. It is funded through an agreement between the OMA and the Ministry of Health negotiated four years ago, but the Ministry has passed off management and operations to the OMA.

At its 2003 launch, OntarioMD.ca was merely an Internet portal that provided free access for physicians to products and services, including online access to medical journals, a drug database and breaking medical news and alerts.

The goal with the re-launch is to ramp up to meet the interactive needs of the physician community – and, reports Patrick Lo, vice president, Privacy, Security and Ethics with OntarioMD, to allow physicians to share information with each other in a secure way.

Lo says the new version of OntarioMD.ca will include secure e-mail, for the registration and issue of physician e-mail accounts to ensure secure sending of confidential information.

“Secure e-mail is one of the biggest changes that will occur,” said Lo. “The enhanced portal will be more personalized; it will be more convenient, with greater ease of access. But these are just enhancements to the previous version.”

Donna Shanley, vice president, Transition Support, Physician IT Program, OntarioMD, says the original agency “was tasked with providing physicians with high quality, integrated, standardized and functional IT environments.”

“We had to provide physicians with a choice of service delivery options, a selection of products and services.”

The original e-mail capabilities were limited, she said.

“What we are doing is listening to feedback from physicians and enhancing it for future use. There are several staged plans for improved functionality.”

That improved functionality includes discussion forums, moderated groups where doctors can communicate with each other in a better environment and other clinical productivity improvements.

Shanley says OntarioMD is also the validation process for clinical management systems. Products encompass both product management and electronic and clinical management systems.

Lo notes that “this is still a joint venture between the government and the OMA.”

“The only difference is the management of the project moving from the public sector to the private sector through OntarioMD. But the infrastructure remains the same.”

Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA) has participated in the over-all strategy from the start, as the e-health information connection in Ontario. It is to stay on board to provide registration services for health care providers for authentication and credential.

“The funding assistance is underway, although it is for very specific physicians, and we manage that funding program,” said Shanley. “The money was transferred to the OMA and that was always intended.”

OntarioMD manages the Physician IT program component that includes managing the content that goes into the portal, enhancing the list of approved clinical management systems and reaching out to physicians and assisting their acquisition, implementation and adoption of IT.

All privacy and security components are vetted for best practices by Lo’s team to keep pace with the rapidly changing compliance. But Lo says security has not been a concern.

“Internally, my role is to ensure that there are privacy protocols in place and a security policy,” Lo said. “As we are developing the enhanced version of the portal, all the developers and data managers have gone through privacy and security training to understand that privacy and security is paramount to our business.”

All new OntarioMD consultants and contractors have to sign a confidentiality agreement which addresses including Internet and e-mail usage policies.

“Right now, from a compliance perspective, I am conducting a reassessment to make sure all the systems are designed to meet security requirements, Lo says. “It’s almost like an internal audit.”

Shanley says OntarioMD is trying to reinforce the notion that, as physicians move towards a paperless environment, the security they need to put in place is meeting all federal and provincial regulations.

“OntarioMD is an entity that has more than just a portal. It’s a portal that is being redesigned, enhanced, and will listen to feedback from physicians. It will try to be the channel into the physicians’ office for any number of services.”



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