E-health raises issues of data management, privacy: panel

TORONTO—Currently, in Canada, 80 per cent of medical images exist in digital form as the health care industry continues to move toward widely implementing electronic medical records. But out of this, arises the challenge of managing this huge amount of digital data from all sources, said a Dell Inc. executive during a panel discussion on innovation in health care.

Jamie Coffin, vice-president and general manager of health care and life sciences with the Round Rock, Tx.-based vendor, pointed out that, by the year 2015, 35 per cent of all health care information in Canada will be digitized. Besides medical images, that will also include data such as lab results and measurements taken from smart medical devices.

The goal, said Coffin, is that once information is digitized, the next step must be to ensure the data is integrated across all systems and communities so physician can make a solid medical decision. And, finally, there must be the capability to analyze it for various reports that health care institutions are required to run.

Whitby, Ont.-based Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences is one such health care institution that turned entirely digital in November 2010. Its chief operating officer Karim Mamdani told ComputerWorld Canada that everything normally available on a paper chart is also available with the same ease even after going digital. “All of our documentation, whether that’s the physician documentation, any of our other disciplines—social work, nursing—are all in one place now,” said Mamdami.

Having gone digital means that Ontario Shores practitioners have the advantage of alerts for allergies or other important background built into electronic records that ensure a patient gets the appropriate care regardless of which physician reads the record.

Earlier during the panel discussion, Mamdani explained the cloud journey that Ontario Shores took to get entirely digital. After an 18-month project, which spanned concept to full adoption, Ontario Shores has outsourced its data centre operations in a Mississauga-based facility to ensure management and security. The next step, said Mamdani is to look at a disaster recovery plan that entails a “mirror site” in Montreal. Both facilities are managed by Dell.

Ontario Shores’ first foray into outsourcing has opened up further possibilities for the health care institution that include possibly outsourcing the IT help desk as well, said Mamdani.

The vision for health care, said Mamdami, is that electronic health records will follow citizens wherever they are, whether that’s in a hospital, youth hostel or jail.

For Dell, Coffin said widespread access to medical data means tearing down data silos created by the plethora of vendors in the health care space. The cloud can be used to set up virtual private networks where all health care apps are housed and data is integrated to create more efficient health care.

“There’s a huge health care gap” in Canada and the U.S. in health delivery with the added challenge of needing to cut cost without compromising quality, said Coffin.

Another challenge brought on by digitizing health care is the balance of data access and privacy. Mamdami acknowledged to ComputerWorld Canada the importance of data privacy, but said Ontario Shores provisions physician access accordingly and sets up system audit trails.

“We do take privacy very, very seriously … but it is heightened when you get into an electronic environment.”

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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