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Alberta aims to create integrated EHR across province

Carl AmrheinEDMONTON – Alberta is working on an integrated clinical information system that will connect the province’s 97 hospitals with primary care networks of family physicians, along with the provincial Netcare system.

That will enable a greater level of communication between hospital clinicians, including ER physicians, and primary care doctors in communities across the province.

Deputy Minister of Health Carl Amrhein (pictured) said his department is working with Alberta Health Services on a proposal to roll out a single health information system starting in 2017 in the areas of Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer.

The system will more easily enable clinicians to find out what medications a person is taking or what diagnostic tests they’ve had.

As of 2014, even though the Alberta government had spent more than $300 million on electronic health records – more than $800 million if Netcare is included – doctors across the province used at least 12 medical record systems that couldn’t communicate with each other. Another 20 per cent of doctors didn’t have electronic health records, the auditor general discovered.

The upgraded system will cost several hundred million dollars more, but is essential to the healthcare system, Amrhein said.

“The emergence of an integrated health record system over the next few years will allow much more easy and useful coupling of the massive amounts of information in the primary care system with the acute-care system and the other systems that support those pieces,” Amrhein told the Edmonton Journal.

Various other professions, such as pharmacists, optometrists, chiropractors and dentists are working with the health ministry and health authority to see if they can also use such a system, while still protecting the privacy and confidentiality of patients.

“This is a massive undertaking,” Amrhein told the public accounts committee Wednesday. “It’s going to be a few years ….”

But “the magic” of such as system would mean an estimated 20 per cent of repeat X-rays, blood tests or other diagnostic studies would not need to be done, Amrhein said, because an emergency physician could see previous results in Netcare.

“I’d say it’s critical,” Amrhein said of moving forward.

In the meantime, Albertans will get access this spring to more personal medication information on the myhealth.alberta.ca website. It was to be launched years ago, but is now being tested by 100 healthcare professionals in AHS.

Healthy and sick Albertans will be able to log in to a personal site, record their health information, link up their Fitbit or pedometer to track their movements, and also peer into their diagnostic tests on Netcare, currently only open to physicians.

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