More robust EHR system in the works for Alberta

Albertans are to have a new and improved electronic health record (EHR) system soon as the result of a partnership with IBM Canada Ltd.

Fully integrated EHRs will provide the best patient experience and highest quality of safety, said Dr. John Cowell, CEO of the Health Quality Council of Alberta.

The $10 million contract renewal makes IBM responsible for recruitment, training and education on work flow changes for providers. Participating in EHRs is voluntary for Alberta physicians and pharmacists; IBM is expected to build participation with a toll-free helpline.

“When we talk about family doctors and retail pharmacists, IBM will be doing more one-on-one training for us,” said Carole Stevenson-Roy, communications manager with Alberta Health and Wellness.

IBM will supply training modules for each component of the EHR tool, she said, and each region will have a train-the-trainer system. More than 300 providers, primarily physicians, tested the newest version of EHRs in May in a pilot administered by the Alberta government.

“We found some things we could finetune (such as) the ordering of sections in our training approach,” said Stevenson-Roy, but no major modifications were made.

The province has been working closely with a clinical advisory group, composed of physicians, nurses and pharmacists from different health regions, to ensure proper implementation of the new EHR system, Stevenson-Roy said. Representatives from various medical associations, pharmacy colleges, stakeholders and health region reps assisted in the pilot project.

Focus groups and surveys on the new EHR system were also conducted by IBM and the Alberta government. Results are being compiled and modifications to operations are under way.

Stevenson-Roy said a launch is planned for this fall, with the existing 17,000 EHR users deployed first.

Todd Kalyniuk of IBM estimates that about 30 IBM employees are now in Alberta for the project.

The joint venture is no surprise; Kalyniuk said IBM and Alberta Health began working together in 1996, when the Auditor General reported excessive fragmentation of the province’s health care system.

IBM has been consistently linked to Alberta’s health system ever since, most notably as an operations manager for Alberta Health. Negotiations to extend that service provider contract are in the works, said assistant deputy minister Linda Miller.

The company has also worked on Y2K remediation, implementing informatics infrastructure, a province-wide cervical cancer screening program and several applications including newborn metabolic screening.

Kalyniuk said electronic health care strategies took flight between IBM and the Alberta government in 2001, with demographic information and lab result information put into the first EHR in the province.

In 2003, IBM’s flagship project was the creation of the Pharmaceutical Information Network (PIN), Kalyniuk said.

This drug management tool enables physicians to alert pharmacists of drugs that may potentially conflict with other patient medication. PIN was the cornerstone of Alberta’s EHR development, said Miller. The initial focus of IBM’s position was to establish and implement all drugs for PIN.

“Providing the best economical approach for the Alberta government was what we were looking for,” said Miller. She said the deployment result of PIN was a solid one.

IBM is one of three qualified vendors for new systems development, she said. 062910

Jessica Young (jyoun[email protected]) is a staff writer with

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