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IBM and BC parts ways on large EHR project

Terry LakeVICTORIA – IBM Canada has opted out of an $842 million health records project in British Columbia, after a disagreement with the provincial government over the strategy needed to create the advanced EHR system. The system, known as the Clinical + Systems Transformation project, is intended to be jointly used by caregivers at Vancouver Coastal Health, Provincial Health Services Authority and Providence Health Care.

The system is said to be running nearly one year behind schedule, but IBM asserted it was ready for testing, according to news reports. For its part, the government disagreed, saying it doesn’t yet meet expectations.

“This is the future of healthcare, so we have to make sure that we get it right,” said Terry Lake (pictured), BC’s Minister of Health.

The ambitious plan for the joint system is to create a shared clinical platform that meets Level 5 in the HIMSS Analytics EMRAM ratings. It will include clinical decision support, standardized clinical documentation, evidence-based order sets, CPOE, and closed-loop medication management.

“There was an intense period of working with IBM, and at the end of the day we decided on both sides, mutually, that it was probably better to part company and to have a transition plan,” Lake told the Vancouver Sun.

“I can’t speak to the specifics of that arrangement due to confidentiality, but IBM and the project board have been very amicable in terms of this reset, and I’m confident that we can move forward with a successful project.”

The system, once up and running, would allow doctors and nurses faster access to electronic health records, test results and other patient data.

“We feel confident that with this ability to reset this project, we will get to one single electronic health record for the people served by these health authorities and ensure better patient safety, better clinical practice guidelines,” said Lake.

So far, IBM has been paid almost $72 million. That has raised the ire of the opposition NDP, which said the project “has gone completely off the rails.”

“They put a big pile of money in a corner, yet again, and lit it on fire,” said NDP leader John Horgan.

But Lake said the larger eHealth push by government remains on track, and has already resulted in provincial standards for electronic medical charts. More doctors are working on electronic medical records in B.C. than anywhere else in Canada, he said.

“What we need to do is work on the next stage, which is connecting those [electronic medical records] in doctor’s offices to the electronic health records across health authorities, and make sure health authorities have a common platform so that your health record can follow you around everywhere you go,” he said. “That’s a massive challenge in health.”

But even if the Vancouver-area health computer project finishes by 2019, it won’t necessarily be able to talk to health systems in other parts of the province.

That’s because different health authorities have chosen different computer technologies. Island Health and Interior Health developed alternate systems. Fraser Health is not part of the now-delayed Vancouver transformation project.

“Each health authority has different approaches,” said Lake. “Our goal is to eventually get alignment across the province, so that no matter what system you’re using, they can talk to each other and your record will follow you wherever you go.”

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