Alberta First Nations health centres embrace the cloud

First Nations communities in Alberta are using SaaS to access newly-digitized medical data and analyze it in record time.
Balking at the increasingly large piles of paperwork, four First Nations communities in Alberta turned to OKAKI Health Intelligence Inc., a leading provider of public health data management in the province, to create a web-based system to record and track immunizations.

Together with partner Cybera Inc., an not-for-profit organization that invests in innovative projects across Alberta, and with sponsorship from Pfizer Canada Inc. [NYSE: PFE], OKAKI created the Community Health and Immunization Program (CHIP). The database is remotely hosted and managed by OKAKI.

“It is not a true cloud yet,” says OKAKI CTO Farees Kara. “We’ve only got one location. But we manage it, we host it, it’s seamless for the client from wherever they are, and it’s a completely Web-based application.
“We’re working with Cybera … and some of our other partners to actually build a true Canadian health cloud, which could span multiple provinces, and multiple servers and co-locations,” he adds.
Kara says CHIP is far more efficient than the old paper-based system, which will translate into money saved in the long run.
“Think of it this way: it’s flu season and you have 2,000 community members come through your door and you keep a paper record. If, at the end of the week, you want to find out who didn’t get a flu shot, a nurse has to sit there and manually go through every document.
“That time is now saved because now, it’s a click of a button. Because with back-end analytics, we can create these reports in seconds versus literally days to create the same report.”
The application is designed to be widely accessible and transportable, he adds.  “It’s an SSL connection. It’s all written in Silverlight. We try to make it as independent of platform as possible. So, as long as you have Silverlight and Internet access, you have access to the application.”
QKAKI uses a Microsoft-based system to host the medical data. The challenge for his company, he says, lies in handling it all properly.
 “Everything is virtualized. We use VMware and we’re using, of course, SANs to host all of our data. The big issue for us is privacy and policy around hosting this type of information. We do have a full-time privacy and policy person who does nothing but look at legislation — Canadian legislation — as to what we can host and how we can host it, what we can manage, and that sort of thing.”
“Being in public health, we use a lot of business intelligence tools,” he adds. “So, our entire platform is all Microsoft, on top of VMware. So we use the Microsoft BI stack, including SharePoint and Enterprise, SQL Enterprise and Reporting Services.”
Now at 30,000 and counting, all the records must be inputted manually, Kara says.  “The problem of doing it with an OCR method is that the data can’t be used. Because, for example, in a traditional EMR (electronic medical record) that’s what they’ll do—they’ll  take a patient’s chart and scan it in—and when they need to retrieve it they just read it. But we actually need it to populate a database. And it has to be accurate, which means it has to be done manually.”
Darlene Richter, RN, manager of nursing at the Stoney Health Centre, one of the institutions hooked up to CHIP, says being able to use the system remotely is a big benefit of the system from the perspective of health-care personnel.
“It’s accessible from any computer. The school nurse uses it at school to document the immunizations that she does there.”
And when the rest of the province adopts the system, which is not in the works, her life will become much easier. She still has to use the photocopier and fax machine to contact institutions that aren’t using CHIP.  Her clients also go back and forth between other cities in Alberta.
“When we connect with Alberta Health Service it will be much less of an issue.”

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