Telus to invest $100M in electronic health records

Telus Corp. announced Tuesday it will spend $100 million over three years on its Emergis division, now known as Telus Health Solutions. Burnaby, B.C.-based Telus acquired Longueuil, Quebec-based Emergis for $763 million last year.

The company’s products include claims management, electronic health records and pharmacy management.

“This is about workflow, and also about clinical process and procedures,” said Telus Health Solutions’ president and general manager, Francois Cote. “A lot of money is going to be utilized towards enhancing those (products).”

The $100 million investment does not include capital spending on Telus’s wireline and wireless networks, said Joe Natale, president of Telus Business Solutions.

“I believe that a whole suite of applications will be available on mobile devices as an example,” he said. “There are a lot of solutions and applications within Emergis that we can bring to that small screen in your pocket, as an idea. There are all kinds of ideas that we have around remote monitoring of patients. Why can’t we take vital signs and directly take an extract, and send through a wireless network to that personal health record or to the community that is supporting that particular individual?”

Natale was unwilling to break down the investment by product area because he doesn’t want Telus’ competitors to get that information. But he did say some investment would be made in partnerships.

Natale and Cote made their remarks Tuesday at a press conference in Toronto. Also on hand were executives at hospitals using Emergis services, including Toronto-based Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where osteoporosis and cancer patients can get access to their health information electronically.

Sunnybrook uses Telus Health Solutions Oacis software to manage its electronic medical records, said Sam Marafioti, the hospital’s CIO.

“We need to ensure that the fewer resources we have on the front lines are able to do more effective patient care,” he said.

He added sharing information between among health providers is critical.

“Well over 90 per cent of health care is still conducted in local communities across the country and that means that local investments in local e-health systems, whether they be hospitals, whether they be primary care doctors, whether they be the community sector must continue to be developed at that level.”

Electronic patient information is also “crucial” to safe health care, he said.

The technology manager of another Telus customer agreed.

“Effective health care is based on the sharing of medical knowledge,” said Jean Huot CIO of Montreal-based McGill University Health Centre. “Not knowing about the allergies could kill someone. Adverse drug reactions are directly result of cases where allergies are not known.”

One of the panelists shared a personal experience that supported Huot’s assertion.

Wayne Gudbranson, chief executive officer of IT consulting firm Branham Group Inc., said his son was undergoing leukemia treatment when he went to a pharmacy to pick up a prescription.

“The doctor’s note was, frankly, illegible,” Gudbranson said. “The pharmacist said, ‘Are you sure, Mr. Gudbranson?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not. You guys are supposed to know this, whether it should be 500 mg or 1,000 mg.’”

In Canada only 20 to 25 per cent of doctors use of electronic health records, said Dr. Alan Brookstone, a physician and partner in the Clearview Group of Vancouver.

But Dr. Brookstone added automating patient records can help doctors save time so they can accept new patients. He said doctors should be able to refer patients to specialists electronically and receive reports back in electronic form. They should also be able to send prescriptions to pharmacists electronically.

“When you implement these technologies, they are mission critical applications. They have to work 100 per cent of the time every single day,” Dr. Brookstone said. “We cannot afford to take a hybrid environment where practitioners have to work in both a paper world and an electronic world simultaneously. That makes life more difficult, it makes it more inefficient.”

He added wireless technologies can also be used.

“We need to look at things like SMS text messaging, and looking at decongestion of waiting rooms and systems that will allow patients to be notified when they should attend their facilities.”

Telus Business Solutions wants to “bring the information to the point of care, to enable the clinicians to make better decisions,” Cote said.

“Without the ability to serve people at the point of care in the doctor’s office, things eventually will wind up becoming acute and forcing a visit to the hospital,” Natale said. “A hospital visit, on average, is somewhere in the range of $4,000. An average home care visit is less than $100. If one in ten Canadians are going to have diabetes in the future, with monitoring and proper home care we can help people deal with that disease in that state rather than push people to the hospital.”