EMR implementation

Who will convert retiring docs’ paper records?

Municipalities with doctor shortages may soon have a new issue. Half of Sarnia’s 150 doctors will retire if forced to convert to electronic health records, predicts the president of the Lambton County Medical Society. “If the government says you have to have a complete paperless office by 2015, I'll say ‘Goodbye, thank you, this is my license – you take over,’” says Dr. Kunwar Singh.

Singh says converting 42 years of his patient files from ink into bytes will be too costly and time consuming.

Cindy Scholten (pictured), a recruiter with Sarnia-Lambton’s Physician Recruitment Task Force, said most doctors who’ve spent years using hard copies don’t want to change.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen when these physicians retire,” she said, noting wall-to-wall paper files accumulated over decades may prove too daunting for new doctors to take on.

Most new doctors use electronic records and Family health teams are mandated by the Ontario government to use EMR, she said.

eHealth Ontario is working on a strategy to provide electronic medical records (EMR) for all Ontarians by 2015. About 30% of Ontario’s 22,000 doctors already use electronic records exclusively.

The government has offered funding as an incentive for physicians to switch, but it’s only a third of the full $75,000 cost to convert, and it would take months to implement, Singh said.

“If Ontario forces you into medical records, I would say goodbye to Ontario and go somewhere there’s no electronic medical records. I can take my stethoscope and pen and a paper and practice medicine (elsewhere).”

Electronic record keeping is one of several recommendations from the Ontario Medical Association, in its response to a recent National Physician Survey that found doctors are burdened with more complex patient caseloads, with more patients with chronic diseases and with more paperwork.

EMR could limit paperwork duplication, but it’s up to patients to ensure their family doctor gets records of their hospital or clinic visits, Scholten said.

“Just because the hospital has electronic records it doesn’t mean the physician does,” she said. “A lot of times I think it’s up to the patient to go to a physician and tell them where they’ve been.”

Posted July 21, 2011