Technology isn’t always the solution, say health care execs

When it comes to managing chronic disease, it’s collaboration, not technology that will help solve the challenges that health care workers are facing, according to Canadian industry experts.

A pan-Canadian electronic health record (EHR) system is a noble vision, “but spending billions of dollars to make EHR available for the average person is a waste of money,” said Matthew Anderson, vice president and CIO of the University Health Network.

“For chronic disease management, (EHRs) are a strong business case, and in that context, investment in IT makes sense,” he said.

Anderson was among the panellists who spoke at the Chronic Disease Management roundtable presented by Direct Engagement Inc. in Toronto yesterday.

Anderson noted that the UHN’s wait-times program has been a great success, “We’ve established an environment of accountability, and created more capacity in our system.”

In Toronto, the UHN is looking at an e-referral system for people receiving hip/knee replacements, in a bid to improve patient satisfaction as it allows for better planning, said Anderson.

But putting the technology in place was the easy part, he said.

“With the chronic disease management program in Toronto the information system technology required isn’t what’s difficult, what’s difficult is getting the clinical teams together to make the system work, that’s where we have to invest our energy,” said Anderson.

Other panel members noted that while the technology tools are available, they haven’t been implemented and utilized to the advantage of both health care workers and the patients they serve.

“E-health is a key enabler, but it doesn’t solve problems,” said Adalsteinn Brown, assistant deputy minister with the Ontario Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care.

Brown added that chronic disease management is a crisis, and a complicated challenge, for which guiding principles need to be outlined in order to address that challenge.

“Over two million people in Canada have at least two chronic diseases, and one of our most common, which is about to reach epidemic proportions, is diabetes,” said Brown.

Both Brown and Anderson stressed the importance of accountability and increased collaboration as necessary components in improving the management of chronic disease.

Also weighing in on the discussion was Ben Chan, CEO of the Ontario Health Quality Council. Chan noted that accountability is important, but support and mentoring for health care workers is also needed.

“We need to share patient self-management best practices, and we need an infrastructure to bring people together in order to collaborate and share information regarding implementation,” said Chan, who has been a family physician for the past 18 years.

Chan said that one of the issues surrounding chronic disease management is that physicians are often told what to do, but not how to implement.

He added that they aren’t optimally organized in the primary care system with respect to how care is delivered.

“Even for those with e-medical records, we don’t often use these as well as we could be (using them) to help manage patients with chronic disease,” he said.

Related content:

Canadian health: Infoway peers into the future

Saskatchewan embraces Telehealth

Integrating IT for collaboration

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