Canadian docs shun IT, clinical care suffers

When it comes to IT implementation by general practitioners (GP), Canada is a major laggard.

A review commissioned by Canada Health Infoway found about 90 per cent of GP’s in 10 countries are using computers for patient care, in sharp contrast Canada’s use is about 20 per cent.

The countries reviewed were: England, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, and Australia.

“We were looking to countries we knew had made significant progress in physician automation, to try and identify some of the key factors that allowed them to be successful,” said Richard Alvarez, president and CEO, Canada Health Infoway .

One reason why GP’s have accepted IT for patient care is financial support from the government, according to the study.

“There is a responsibility on government from an infrastructure point of view, both provincially and federally to step up to the plate from a financial point of view,” said Alvarez. “Because there’s an argument to say these systems make physicians more effective, but more importantly it provides quality care to patients.”

Dr. Ruth Collins-Nakai, president of the Canadian Medical Association has a different view than Alvarez on the financial issue.

“It’s the provincial governments who are responsible for health care, so it may be that the issue is not what more can the federal government do if they’re supporting it through Canada Health Infoway, but what could be done at the provincial level at individual regional health authorities,” she said.

Collins-Nakai also stressed the importance of the clinician’s involvement in the selection and implementation of the IT systems they use.

“If you’ve only got the IT people involved they may design something they think works well from the computer standpoint but it could be entirely impractical in the doctor’s office,” said Collins-Nakai. “We have to have the front end user involved in the electronic records they’re going to be using, if it’s too hard for the docs to use in a clinical setting they just won’t use it.”

Funding isn’t the only factor limiting the use of IT by GP’s in Canada, according to Alvarez.

“The bulk of our physicians have left med school many years ago and there’s a fear of something new, of new technology,” he said. “There’s a fear of this taking more of their time, and there’s also the issue of training and cost.”

Alvarez also said that more common use of the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) is crucial to solving issues such as wait time management.

“The fact that 80 per cent of physicians are not using EMR is a real problem because if we’re going to do anything about chronic disease management, and wait times, then it has to start at the grass roots in the clinician’s office,” said Alvarez.

To read the full review click here .

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