Workshops showcase e-health gems

Initiatives to help doctors sort through mountains of medical research and to send data in a secure manner are just two of the projects being featured as part of a cross-Canada workshop aimed at sparking technology collaborations and new research.

Sponsored by CANARIE Inc., a non-profit Canadian organization dedicated to advancing Internet development and use, the first of three planned shows was held in Halifax on Sept. 7; the event is also coming to Vancouver on Oct. 14 and Toronto Nov. 4 through 5.

One exhibitor coming to Toronto is Ofer Avital, founder and CEO of Evidence Matters Inc., a Montreal-based company that created an online subscription-based database and software system for physicians, researchers and patients. Avital, a medical doctor, developed the system because he was frustrated with how much time it takes to read up on new research. “When you practise medicine you are supposed to keep up with research, and you alter your style of practice as new drugs come out that have fewer side effects,” he explained. On an average day he would have about one hour for reading, but there was so much to cover that “you could spend all day reading.”

Avital said the Internet-based Evidence Matters database allows physicians to quickly construct a clinical report and then find out what kind of treatment is best for a patient by querying the database. The details of current peer-reviewed research are presented in a standardized format. “Instead of an ugly, dense, hard-to-read abstract” often found when searching other medical databases, with Evidence Matters “you get a bullet-point summary” which makes it easier to digest.

Users can compare therapies for effectiveness, safety and cost based on the most recent evidence. The multilingual database includes information from a variety of sources, including case reports and randomized clinical trials. Test centres for the database have been established at teaching hospitals at McGill University and Harvard.

The Community Health Information Network (CHIN) will also be exhibiting at the workshop. Health care organizations in four Ontario regions are using this secure, Internet-based network to share patient information, according to Tina Mah-Sanscartier, director of decision support at the Waterloo Region Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), an organization that provides access and referrals to, and information about, community care and placement services to Waterloo, Ont., area residents.

The concept of CHIN was conceived in 1995 and was developed collaboratively with Ontario’s Smart Systems for Health Agency, which enables the electronic interchange of data between health care providers. CHIN has standardized interfaces for several existing medical systems, including connectivity to long-term care facilities, provincial systems and hospitals. According to Mah-Sanscartier, the system “streamlines and makes it easier to exchange information” and is not restricted by different information systems. “The challenge to exchange information has been a historical barrier” for health care, she said. “Everyone has different IT systems, but CHIN bridges that gap.”

With CHIN, health care providers can create private, secure e-mail messages that can only be sent to and accessed by authorized users. Another option is to employ smart forms, which contain business rules in each data field that can be used to automatically update the databases of the organization receiving the information, eliminating re-entry, Mah-Sanscartier said.

Report creation is also possible. A hospital that wants to pull information from the CCAC about a client waiting for a long-term care facility “can work collaboratively (with other facilities) to find a placement for people,” she said. Before, the process would have involved numerous faxes and phone calls between facilities, but this method “makes information available in real time. As soon as the CCAC has it, the hospital or long-term care facility has it.”

More than 3,300 client files are exchanged weekly between the CCAC of Waterloo Region and its providers. “CHIN is modular,” explained Mah-Sanscartier, so “depending on the identified need, CCACs (from various regions) have turned on certain functions before others.” York Region’s CCAC is using CHIN to connect to long-term care facilities that want access to wait time information. The Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington CCAC has turned on the e-commerce function to link itself with third-party contract service providers, while Simcoe County is connecting to providers of nursing, homemaking and therapy services.

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