marketing manager, CLINICARE

Armed with strong government support and technology guidance, a growing number of Canadian doctors are moving to paperless health care.

And they’re reaping big benefits.

Adopting electronic medical records (EMR) in their offices has given several Alberta physicians more flexibility in handling patients, according to Dr. Steve Edworthy, rheumatologist and co-chair of Alberta’s Physician Office System Program (POSP).

“The ability to do away with my paper chart has allowed me more flexibility in the way I see my patients. I can work in different hospitals and still have my (patient) charts electronically available,” said Edworthy, adding automation has also made scheduling appointments more efficient.

POSP, implemented jointly by the Government of Alberta, Alberta Medical Association and the province’s regional health authorities three years ago, provides financial subsidies to physicians adopting new information technologies in their clinics. The goal is to encourage more doctors to switch to paperless patient care.

POSP yearly allocations:

  • $25 million – 2003/2004
  • $20 million – 2004/2005
  • $20.6 million – 2005/2006

Alberta bears 70 per cent of the cost of implementing and maintaining EMR systems, and physicians foot the remaining 30 per cent. The POSP allocated $25 million to fund the program in 2003, $20 million in 2004, and $20.6 million for this year.

To date, 43 per cent of Alberta physicians have implemented EMR systems in their offices. Edworthy said POSP expects the rate to go up to 75 per cent by 2008.

POSP proponents are also looking at interfacing pharmacy networks with the EMR system, according to Edworthy. He said this may start happening in Alberta within the year.

“By having electronic capability, we will be able to see all the medication that have been prescribed as well as all the medication that have been dispensed. You’d think those (two) are the same, but they’re not,” the Alberta physician said.

Edworthy is one of about 2,000 physicians in North America that use CLINICARE’s Computerized Medical Records (CMR) application. CMR’s features include a scheduled patient list, cumulative patient profile, image import and viewing, lab graphs, growth charts and body mass index displays.

CLINICARE is a software developer and provider of technology tools for group practice physicians in North America.

With EMR, patient care is no longer confined within the walls of a doctor’s clinic, said Brent Mitchell, CLINICARE marketing manager. He added a doctor can be in the “middle of the Pacific Ocean” and could still have access to patient information.

“Medical errors kill 350 people a day in North America, and one reason for that is legibility of medication or prescriptions. If you put all of that (information) in a computer, then you have a complete, accurate, and legible record of a patient’s history,” Mitchell said.Medical errors kill 350 people a day in North America, and one reason for that is legibility of medication or prescriptions.Brent Mitchell>Text CLINICARE’s products run on IBM pSeries platform, which according to Mitchell is “virtually never down, virus-proof, and scalable.”

The Group Health Centre (GHC) in Sault Ste. Marie, uses CLINICARE’s EMR software to manage its database of 58,000 patients.

GHC interfaces its EMR application with its laboratory’s computer systems so that lab tests and results are transmitted online, according to Tamara Shewciw, GHC senior manager for information technology.

Since it began computerizing its processes in 1997, patient care at the GHC has dramatically improved, said Shewciw.

“The whole process flow is very different with electronic [records]. Because information is instantly accessible, doctors are providing much better care,” she said. “Technically the physician’s office is now paperless.”

GHC’s system contains security features that address patient confidentiality and privacy issues. Users are “handcuffed” to access only information within their scope of interest, Shewciw said.

nformation is shared among providers within a patient’s “circle of care.” Staff and doctors involved within the circle would have access to the patient’s chart but only on a level corresponding to their role or privileges, said Shewciw. “Different notes are locked so only certain people can see it. Like psychiatry notes are locked so only psychiatrists can see them.”

For its next IT project, GHC is looking at image archiving, which will enable its system to digitize and store medical images such as x-rays and diagnostic photos, Shewciw said.

Related links:

The paperless office

Doctors do it wirelessly

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