With an aging population, extended wait-times, increasing costs and chronic conditions reaching almost epidemic proportions, Canada’s health care system may not survive without radical change.
The call for significant restructuring is coming from the highest levels of government, demanding that health care providers take advantage of the time, cost and resource efficiencies promised by information technologies.
Today’s IT-savvy practitioners want products that leverage their existing investments, but which also evolve towards a more open, vendor-neutral, patient-centric platform that allows sharing of information across the continuum of health care.
Whether physician, nurse, technician or administrator, users require on-demand access to all relevant patient data, from disparate data sources and ideally through one unified view. Partial or inaccurate patient information can result in compromised decisions and unnecessary costs.
e-Health is one area that is profoundly changing the way health care is conducted, with the potential for safer, more affordable and significantly more efficient services at a departmental, enterprise and regional level.
With a mandate to plan, coordinate and integrate health services, Ontario’s Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) were established to address these systemic issues. Using IT to better integrate and manage information, the LHIN model has a unique opportunity to accelerate e-health’s momentum not only at individual hospitals, but through entire regions.
The use of portals for information sharing may not be new, but in the case of LHINs, portals can be viewed as an old technology with a new promise. Today’s portals can aggregate information stored in disparate, often incompatible systems, allowing tight integration with underlying applications. Not only does this prevent a health care provider being locked in with one specific vendor, it protects their investments in legacy systems.
Portal integration is one of the key elements to help LHINs achieve their mandate. Health care providers can access a holistic view of patient information from a single access point with one secure log-in. Multiple care providers can be connected and work together to deliver better patient care without geographical barriers.
Halton Health Sciences is a multi-site care provider that offers three community hospitals in Ontario and serves more than 200,000 residents in Milton, Oakville, Clarkson and Halton Hills. Using a decentralized, federated e-health delivery model, Halton Health developed Reach: a comprehensive portal strategy that connects physicians, patients, providers and employees.
Reach provides users with a unified view of patient information through a secure portal platform that aggregates and links data in real-time from clinical systems. Users don’t need to navigate through multiple applications to find information and also have options for e-messaging and full access via mobile devices.
It’s this type of technology that is helping to integrate Halton Health Sciences in LHIN 6 with William Osler Health Centre in LHIN 5. It also represents a radical change in the delivery of health care in Ontario and a significant leap forward for those providers who experience a large volume of cross-jurisdiction patients.
The government has established lofty targets for improving health care in Canada; and while there are significant challenges to overcome, the potential to succeed has never been clearer. As seen with the successful integration of LHINs 5 and 6 in Ontario, for example, we can expect the level of patient care to rise dramatically over the next few years.
The LHIN model has the potential to deliver rapid, convenient access to any and all lifetime patient medical information, regardless of when or where the care was delivered.
As health care providers begin to move out of their individual silos of information, we can also expect to see increased integration across provinces. With that, the promise of national electronic health records (EHRs) will finally shift from theory to reality – creating a more efficient, communicative and effective health care system.
Michael Green is president and CEO of Agfa Canada’s health care group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org