Storing and sharing medical information electronically will deliver better care at a lower cost.
Information technologies have revolutionized virtually every aspect of our lives, from banking and business to travel and leisure. But they’ve been notably absent from the management of patient information in Canada’s health system. Such information continues to be captured primarily on paper, a system that’s been around since Hippocrates, a system with considerable limitations that continually put patients needlessly at risk.
Virtually every industry in Canada, from banking and business to travel and leisure, has evolved from paper-based record-keeping to electronic systems. For years, these industries have reaped the rewards of investments made in information technology. Unfortunately, health care in Canada has not made comparable levels of investment.
However, we are now in the process of modernizing a health record system from one that’s been around for millennia to one where health professionals and patients can transfer and access vital patient data. This is a long-overdue solution that Canadians expect to see in place as soon as possible.
Fortunately Canada has made considerable progress in modernizing our health system with information technology thanks to the cooperation and support of governments and health professionals across the country. Now it’s only a matter of time before patients start seeing this transformation for themselves.
Funded by the federal government, Canada Health Infoway (Infoway) is working with the provinces and territories to implement private, secure health information systems capable of providing health professionals with ready access to crucial, accurate, complete patient information.
Known as electronic health record (EHR) systems, the technology has the capacity to record and track millions of health transactions, from the birth of your baby to your grandmother’s prescriptions, and more. These transactions enable health professionals to deliver improved quality of care through timely access to consistent patient data, reduced duplication of effort, and shorter time lags between each stage of care.
The same efforts will provide what patients are demanding: the ability to communicate electronically with their health professionals and the capability to access their own medical data, book appointments electronically, and eliminate the need to repeat their medical histories every time they visit a health practitioner. However, most providers cannot yet offer this vital service to their patients.
Unquestionably, it will be a long journey to reach that goal. But it will be one that will deliver a range of benefits along the way. Today in Canada, for instance, we know investments in digital diagnostic imaging — such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs — will generate as much as $1 billion in annual radiology efficiencies and cost savings when fully implemented across the country. And we’ve already seen increased clinical productivity equivalent to adding some 500 radiologists to our health system; a significant number given we have fewer than 3,000 radiologists in all of Canada.
Bringing the benefits of enhanced health care to every Canadian via a fully implemented electronic health record system will cost roughly $12 billion, which works out to about $350 per Canadian, compared to current health care system costs that are nearly $5,000 for each Canadian each year.
The return on this $350-per-capita investment in electronic health records systems is phenomenal. When fully implemented, the investment will not only transform health care but also will result in $6 billion to $7 billion in cost savings every year. Considering the well-documented pressures the health system will encounter in the near future, the question is how we can afford not to pursue this undertaking.
Fortunately, the cross-Canada EHR effort has been supported by every province and territory, by the Government of Canada, and by health professionals from coast to coast to coast. Ultimately this spirit of collaboration will lead Canada’s successful implementation of a national electronic health record system.
Utilizing the efficiencies of information technology to support the work of Canada’s health professionals and deliver higher quality, safer services to all Canadians is of immeasurable value.
It’s an investment we cannot afford to forsake.