EDMONTON – Alberta is connecting the various provincial systems that house immunization records, in a bid to improve vaccination rates and to manage infectious disease outbreaks if and when a crisis should occur. An integrated network should be ready to use by next year.
Alberta clinicians, such as family doctors, pharmacists and travel nurses, currently have varying degrees of access to immunization records, said deputy medical officer of health Dr. Martin Lavoie (pictured).
Compiling immunization records from the province’s five different health zones into Alberta Netcare – the electronic health record – will save time, money and staff involved in chasing immunization histories across jurisdictions, he added.
“Being able to do it faster and better will also help, especially in times of crisis when we have an outbreak so we can manage the outbreak faster and more efficiently,” Dr. Lavoie told the Edmonton Journal.
The Netcare plan, expected to be ready in 2016, would tie together the current patchwork of digital registries that Lavoie said are a residue of Alberta’s former distinct health regions. He said a lot of work is going into pulling data from the different health zones.
“There are multiple steps involved, but work is well underway and I think within the near future we will have that working.”
The north, south and central zones use one type of registry, while Calgary and Edmonton each have different ones. None of the registries “talk to each other,” meaning a doctor in Edmonton can’t determine the immunizations given to a patient who previously lived in Grande Prairie or Calgary, he said. There is a central database containing all provincial immunization records, but Lavoie said access to it in each health zone isn’t as quick and easy as he expects the new Netcare database will offer.
And Lavoie said that access can reduce the risk of errors.
“Sometimes you have to rely on people’s memory. They recall something and sometimes it’s not exactly right and they might receive doses of vaccine that they don’t need because they already received it… and we want to prevent that,” he said.
He added that giving family doctors the ability to look up patient immunization histories may improve uptake of vaccinations and is a step toward more “personalized medicine.”
He said patients are more likely to listen to advice from a doctor regarding a specific shot they might be missing, rather than a general endorsement of vaccines.
“If they do make a recommendation, it carries a lot of weight and tends to motivate people to act on it,” he said.
Dr. Joan Robinson, pediatric infectious diseases physician at the Stollery Children’s Hospital, wants to see something much broader.
“What we would ideally have in this country is some kind of national registry where every single person’s immunization records could be recorded,” she said.
Robinson said she doesn’t think the federal government has any intention of committing the resources needed to create a national registry, but said a province-wide registry would be useful to her as a clinician.
Groundwork for a Canada-wide registry was laid more than a decade ago. During the second wave of Canada’s SARS outbreak in spring 2003, a National Immunization Strategy recommending creation of a Canada-wide “immunization registry network” was accepted at a conference of deputy health ministers.
An electronic health record system called Panorama, developed by the government-funded organization Canada Health Infoway, was created with the ability to track immunization across the country. Panorama is being used in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Yukon. Almost all health units in Ontario use it and Manitoba is in the process of deploying it.
Lavoie said Alberta opted to skip it because the province was already juggling several existing systems.