UHN’s CIO explains how ConnectingGTA will help treat patients as ‘partners in care’

Lydia Lee has noticed a pattern in the last 10 years of her career. There are projects nobody wants to do, or projects that no one thinks can possibly be accomplished. Then, just like many other people working in the health-care system, she diagnoses the problems, comes up with a plan and treats it accordingly.

As a case in point, take the work the CIO for University Health Network and her team have done on ConnectingGTA, a health information exchange that went live just this past June. Developed in partnership with eHealth Ontario and Telus, ConnectingGTA brings together hospital information with health-care information systems in home care agencies, in primary physician practices and other community providers. It means that if you were got knee surgery at Toronto General and fell off your bike a year later close to a different facility like St. Joseph’s, local providers would immediately be able to pull up your past history and see that you had to be treated differently than if you had never had knee problems before.

So far, more than 450 health care provider organizations are linked via ConnectingGTA, with about 32,000 clinicians enrolled in the system — more than the 20,000 that  was expected at this point. After years of aspiring to electronic health records, Lee’s work at the UHN shows how it’s finally becoming a reality, which is why she was a winner of this year’s CanadianCIO of the Year Award as part of ITAC’s Ingenious Awards program.

“We don’t see ourselves as sort of back-room, technical people,” Lee said of her team.  “We see ourselves as clinical change management people as opposed to technical people . . . We could have just turned this into a technology deployment rather than bringing 175 clinicians through the design process. Then we would have presented them something and they might not have wanted to use it. That is, I think, a fundamental risk of a person in this role.”

Of course, being inclusive and consultative has its costs, which Lee admitted was one of the major challenges of ConnectingGTA. It meant getting everybody to agree on a common strategy and approach and having the right leaders in place from the various organizations that were participating and aligning everybody’s priorities across the region.

“People lose stamina. They get tired,” she said. “Keeping everybody at the table and keeping them energized and excited and not losing sight of the end game is tough.”

For Lee, Connecting GTA is a major milestone but also just one example of a larger vision of what she describes as a transition from patient-centered care to patients as partners in care.

“Patient-centered care in the old parlance was really about making sure that the care being provided to people in the hospital was taking into account the whole person and making sure they’re addressing them from all the different disciplines of health: nurses, physicians, pharmacists, social workers,” she said. “You’re not just thinking about the illness, but the person.”

Patients as partners in care, on the other hand, means not only providing care and recommending treatments but engaging them in decision-making, Lee said. It also means giving patients the ability through tools or information to be more active in understanding what’s happening to them and what they can be doing themselves.

This goes beyond administering their own meds to information about how to live a healthy lifestyle that will complement that care they get at a hospital.

“From a technology standpoint, that means making sure they’ve got the information available for the entire care team, and that they can contribute, but also that the patient is contributing data and information in a more proactive way,” she said.

For example, UHN has created a patient portal where they can view their own lab results, talk to other patients, view their appointments and keep track of information on studies or articles that inform them about their condition.

“It’s not just about delivering care in hospitals and big institutions anymore but really trying to shift to keeping patients healthy and out of the hospital and in the community and at home,” she said. “We want to be bringing care to them as opposed to them having to come to the providers.”

The 2015 Ingenious Awards also recognized Canadian Tire’s Eugene Roman as a CanadianCIO of the Year recipient. We’ll profile Roman on Thursday on ITWorldCanada.com.

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