By Rosie Lombardi
Patients are clamouring for more personal medical data and better communications with their doctors – and the healthcare sector needs to find a secure way to do that. One solution that is gaining traction is called mihealth, a messaging and personal health record (PHR) system which has been operational since 2011. The system was developed by Dr. Wendy Graham, founder and CEO of Toronto-based mihealth Global Systems and a family doctor with over 20 years practice experience. Today, several thousand patients are using mihealth in hospitals and clinics across Ontario and beyond.
Mihealth has first-class security credentials. Both the Privacy Commissioners of Ontario and Alberta have accepted the system, and Infoway granted the company Consumer Health Certification in 2011 after an extensive examination of its privacy and security framework. “Patients want and expect the same controls and convenience they get from banking systems in their healthcare systems,” says Dr. Graham.
The system is designed to empower patients with the information they need to take better control of their health. Mihealth allows patients to maintain their own personal health records, with medical information that has been validated and downloaded by their physicians. This data is stored on the patient’s smart phone or computer so they can review and display their information anytime they need it. And it offers a secure messaging system that allows bi-directional communication between doctors and patients for scheduling appointments, downloading lab results, and queries.
The company is currently extending its capabilities in several key areas. “We’ve added specialist doctors and several major drug stores to the circle of care in which patients can exchange information. We already have a Shoppers Drug Mart in Scarborough, Ont., that’s using mihealth with patients,” says Dr. Graham.
Mihealth has also introduced features to allow patients to download biometric data from medical devices such as blood pressure cuffs and glucometers. “All this data can be stored in mihealth now. And we’re integrated with BodyGuardian, which is a 30-day cardiac monitoring patch.”
While many EMR systems and medical institutions already offer patient portals that provide some of these features, they only connect to one provider in most cases. What distinguishes mihealth is that it allows patients to knit together a complete, longitudinal record from multiple providers and PHRs.
“We’re not competing with other portals, we’re complementing them. So if you go to doctors A, B, C or hospitals X, Y, Z in different places and countries, you’ll take all your data with you as opposed to just having access to one EMR and one portal,” says Dr. Graham.
Mihealth recently entered into a partnership with Microsoft to use their HealthVault platform in conjunction with their system. While the two may appear to be competitors at first blush, they actually complement each other, says Peter Jones, industry lead for healthcare at Microsoft Canada.
“The spirit of HealthVault is to allow a number of PHRs to connect and leverage that platform to share information. There are multiple PHR vendors that will sit on top of HealthVault to gain access to over 300 medical applications developed by Microsoft and its partners. Patients can also connect with over 200 biometric monitoring and medical devices, such as glucometers.”
HealthVault’s relationship with PHR providers brings reciprocal benefits, as they’re responsible for building connections with EMR vendors, he adds. “HealthVault doesn’t connect to any specific EMR unless a partner builds that connection. So we extend our offerings via our PHR partners, and in return, they add those connections back into HealthVault.”
In like fashion, mihealth will be building a secure connection to Microsoft’s Skype. “Users can then leverage Skype for video conferencing and real-time communications,” says Jones.
The partnership with Microsoft allows a smaller player like mihealth to extend its geographic reach and access more data, as many portals are starting to use HealthVault as their data repositories. “So say you’re in the UK and you have EMR data in mihealth from Ontario, and then a UK provider inputs more data about you into HealthVault. That data can be pushed into mihealth from HealthVault and accessed anywhere when you travel,” says Graham.
These features bring convenience and peace of mind to Louise Lugli, a retired school teacher who travels extensively despite her medical issues. “Because I live in North Bay, I’ve had my hip replacement done at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, my spinal stenosis done at Scarborough General, and my lungs looked at by a thoracic surgeon in Sudbury. But I have my whole medical history on my iPad if something happens when I’m in Mexico. And my daughter has the permissions needed to access my mihealth record too,” says Lugli.
Mihealth is involved in a pilot program to study how doctors and patients can make best use of the system. About 200 patients are using mihealth in conjunction with the multidisciplinary members of the Stratford Family Health Team.
While people with complex chronic conditions are obvious candidates for mihealth, a surprising finding is that a significant percentage of people who sign up are not in this category, says Dr. Graham. “The person that wants to use it is usually female, between the ages of 25 to 65, about 60 percent of the time. The really high-end users are the sandwich generation who are looking after the medical needs of their children, elderly parents and spouses.”
Uptake of the service has been rapid at the Stratford Family Health Team, one of mihealth’s clinic clients, as patients are eager to make use of mihealth’s convenience. “Patients are keen to be partners in their health,” says Dr. Graham.