Telus personal health portal gets hospital

Efforts to expand availability of health records online to everyone in the country have taken another step with the partnering of a major hospital and a national telecommunications medical services provider.

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, a Toronto teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto, said Monday that its hospital-administered MyChart personal health management application for patients will link to Telus Corp.’s soon-to-be launched Health Space records portal.

While subscribers will be able to import MyChart data into Health Space, the Telus portal won’t be necessarily be a replacement. But what it hopefully will give MyChart users is a broader number of sources from which to import medical data – depending on how many medical industry players Telus can sign.

“This type of toolset represents ideally how the private sector can play a very positive role in a publicly-funded system,” Sam Marafioti, Sunnybrook’s vice-president of corporate strategy and chief information officer told reporters Monday.
[Sunnybrook created MyChart for its patients, then sold it to Telus in 2009 for a reported $3 million. However, the hospital is responsible for the data repository and security.]

Universal access to personal health information has been a quest for many in the e-health medical and IT community, who believe it will help ordinary Canadians better manage their health and, by extension, to help the medical industry to manage costs. Among other advantages, a Web-based application would also allow patients to have access to medical information anywhere they need it.

However, patients still a long way from access to electronic medical records (EMRs) held by individual doctors on their patients, and electronic health records (EHRs) held by hospitals. [Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably.]

By comparison a personal health record is anything kept by an individual. Health Space, based on Microsoft Corp.’s HealthVault infrastructure, is a personal health care record repository still under development under an agreement that began earlier this year.

The telecommunications carrier said Monday that 2,000 members of its staff have begun testing the service, where users can arrange medical information under a number of categories. Users need a free Microsoft Live or Passport account to subscribe.

Initially, the Telus staff will only be able to manually add their own health information to a secure database. But the carrier hopes to sign more EMR/EHR providers, hospitals, clinics and pharmacies soon and begin wider trials early next year before being fully open to the public.

The first version of Telus Health Space has received pre-launch approval by Canada Health Infoway, which is trying to create a cross-country EMR/EHR network.

Telus has been in the medical information services for years, and increased its depth with the 2008 purchase of provider Emergis Inc. for $763 million. Telus Health Solutions is an EHR provider now delivers a range of medical data management services to hospitals, clinics, doctors, workers compensation agencies. Success with Health Space would give it entre into the consumer market.

 In addition to letting Health Space subscribers add or import data, Telus hopes to lure paying subscribers by offering services such as the ability to automatically upload data from electronic devices that measure glucose or blood pressure, and online advisory services from partners such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

In the Telus test for staffers, for example, users can get advice a nurse on their heart data from the carriers’ employee assistance provider, Shepelle FGI.

Telus executives said Monday the pricing model for Health Space still hasn’t been worked out yet. But Paul LePage, senior vice-president of Telus Health and Financial Services told reporters it will likely depend on where users will get their health data from – doctors, hospitals and other institutions. Provinces might demand free access to a basic record, but there will be charges for added services, he added.

LePage also said there may be a “very,very low price” for subscribers to merely keep their own information on Health Space without connecting to any other source of information.

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