Put the patient first.
That's what two of Canada's leading health organizations are saying is the prescription for fixing the country's poor history of introducing electronic health records (EHR). The Health Council of Canada – a nonprofit watchdog agency – released a report that warns that the lack of an integrated EHR is leading family physicians to order unnecessary medications and diagnostic tests. Three days later, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) – which represents many of the country's doctors – released a health information investment strategy that calls for major investment in primary care technology.
Both reports are a reaction to the fact that fewer than 40 percent of Canada's primary care doctors have access to EHR, compared to 99 percent of physicians in the Netherlands and 96 percent in the United Kingdom.
The Health Council of Canada sees frontline doctors facing increasingly complex demands without enough information to make the best decisions for their patients.
“We can expect a surge in health service use as the population ages, chronic diseases become more prevalent, new drugs and technologies are introduced, and patient and provider expectations expand,” the council's report concludes. It says that if Canada continues to delay implementation of EHR, inappropriate prescribing and excessive medical testing will increase dramatically as the population ages.
CMA President Dr. Jeff Turnbull says: “Most patient care in Canada occurs in primary care settings, yet most health IT investments made to date have centered on large-scale systems. We want investments that translate into tangible benefits, namely improved patient care and better outcomes.”
The association is recommending five years of targeted investment in areas like medication and chronic disease management, and public health reporting.
For its part, Canada's largest government body concerned with health IT – eHealth Ontario – says that a 2015 target for EHR is within its grasp. Providing an update a year after a spending scandal rocked the provincial health authority, eHealth CEO Greg Reed said all doctors' offices and clinics in Ontario will have access to shared patient information within five years.