Monday, September 10, 2007

Cross-Canada eHealth race well underway | N.B. may be first to have linked medical records

FREDERICTON - By the end of 2009, all hospitals will be linked to 'one patient one record' system, with doctors and pharmacies joining later and positioning New Brunswick to be the first in the country to reconcile its medical records process.

Health Minister Mike Murphy announced on Friday that his department signed contracts for four major pieces of the province's e-health record system. He said the programs New Brunswick purchased are used successfully in other provinces. And while some other provinces are ahead in aspects of e-health, not one has all hospitals linked through a one patient one record system.

Don Sweete, the Atlantic Canada executive regional director for Canada Health Infoway, said New Brunswick's 2009 deadline is realistic. There are several provinces racing towards the 2009 target, he said, but it is difficult to say who will achieve the coveted system first.

"All provinces have made tremendous progress in moving forward with the interoperable electronic health programs," Sweete said. "New Brunswick's no different."

The system, which will be in place within three years, is expected to cost $36 million. The province will contribute $17.7 million, while Canada Health Infoway, a non-for-profit organization dedicated to develop health information systems, will pay the rest. Murphy said the contracts cover the basics of his e-health strategy, and will give hospitals across the province immediate access to any patient's extensive medical history.

"It is not the full e-health initiative that I have spoken at length of," Murphy said. "That is going to take several years more."

The long-term plan is to link all health care providers - from doctors' offices and pharmacies - to the hospital system. The entire strategy, yet to be thoroughly defined by the government, is expected to cost a quarter-billion dollars over the next 10 years. Murphy said the strategy is more efficient and will eventually save the system money.

"There will be far fewer clinical errors made by health care professionals with regard to drugs and allergies," he said.

Initiate Systems Inc. will provide a client registry for $1.9 million over two years. Orion Health signed a three-year agreement worth $4 million for a provider registry and the Interoperable Electronic Health Record system, which makes it possible to link, capture, store and view patient information in a central database. System integration and maintenance services costing $5.6 million over three years will be handled by xwave. Agfa Healthcare Inc. will receive $9 million over two years to create its Diagnostic Imaging Repository, used to consolidate images from X-rays and ultrasounds to MRIs and CT scans.

The independent Canada Health Infoway is funding all provinces and helping them to strategize and establish e-health systems. Sweete said the organization is 100 per cent behind the approach New Brunswick has taken.

Gary Folker, Xwave managing director of business development for health care, said the province has a well thought out and aggressive mandate.
"There's a lot of work that needs to be done to accomplish this," Folker said, adding that the province is well positioned to succeed.

Murphy said the province's "dead-last" standing in the country for an e-health strategy it has held up until a few months ago can be turned into an advantage.
"We have a road map now - we know where it's working and not working," he said. "By the end of 2009 we may very well be the first Canadian province to have all of our hospitals hooked up one patient one record."

But while New Brunswick is trying to the finish first in the country, Murphy said it will also establish the best privacy laws to accompany the system.
The government is working on those laws, and Murphy hopes they will be in place no later than spring.

"The legislation has to be developed hand-in-hand with these foundational pieces," Murphy said.

"If you don't have the proper mechanisms in place and the proper laws in place, then theoretically someone could push a button and see everything in your health care record. And that's never going to happen in New Brunswick."

MEGHAN CUMBY | FOR THE TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL | Published Saturday September 8th, 2007 | Appeared on page A1

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