MedChart enables easier retrieval of health records
October 29, 2018
NEWMARKET, ONT. – Southlake Regional Health Centre has partnered with Toronto-based startup MedChart Inc. to allow patients and authorized third parties to easily request and quickly obtain medical records online, day or night.
Southlake – a 426-bed hospital and cancer-care centre located north of Toronto – was the first hospital to join the MedChart network, in a pilot project funded partly by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).
MedChart began working with Southlake on the pilot in November 2016, and went live in May 2017.
Records retrieval is a time-consuming and ultimately expensive process for patients, says Rob Bull, Vice President of Finance, Technology and Innovation at Southlake. Previously, requests needed to be made in person during business hours, 8 am to 4 pm, Monday to Friday. This required special trips to the hospital, with time off work and parking fees.
“That can be quite an inconvenience and amounts to an extra cost for the patient,” Bull says.
For third parties, such as personal injury law firms or insurance companies, gathering records can be even more time-consuming. Those requests are typically made by mail. A health information official might have to make phone calls for clarification, requiring more mailed documentation and extra fees.
“There’s a lot of mailing back and forth,” says Bull.
In any case, the average request for patient records used to take 16-21 days to complete on average. However, the pilot at Southlake has reduced the turnaround time to less than two days.
And it’s done online, so the patient – or his or her advocate – doesn’t have to travel anywhere or use mail or fax.
In the case of Southlake, the MedChart system has been connected to the hospital’s electronic records systems. As a result, much of the retrieval of records at the hospital is automated.
When records are located at an outside hospital or clinic, MedChart will go out and collect the needed records for the patient.
MedChart has already been building a business on this model – doing the legwork for patients, collecting electronic and paper records for patients wherever they may be located, and centralizing them in a secure repository. Patients and their authorized designates can then access the records, anytime and from any place.
“We’ve retrieved health records from every single province and territory,” says James Bateman, CEO MedChart. When the records are on paper, MedChart will digitize them for the patients, creating easy-to-use online copies. “There’s always going to be paper information, even in a completely digital hospital,” he says.
They also integrate diagnostic imaging systems, a “turnkey” process that can be accomplished in a morning and eliminates CD burning, says Bateman.
And as usage expands, information from allied health professionals – such as chiropractors and physiotherapy clinics – will also be drawn into the computerized pool of data.
Bull notes that the MedChart system automates records delivery. The retrieval work – chasing files – can still be a manual process, especially when disparate departmental systems are unconnected, or you’re dealing with multiple providers and record systems.
But at Southlake, the hospital’s deep integration of technology makes the job more efficient – at least for the records patients are requesting that were generated inside the hospital.
Bateman says MedChart is currently expanding its reach – he spoke from a swing on the West Coast, and is in discussions with potential B.C. users. MedChart is also working with cancer care centres on a Health Technology Fund project to provide telemedicine nurses with instant, online access to oncology patient histories. The after-hours service is run by Bayshore HealthCare.
For his part, Bateman created MedChart through a personal experience. When Bateman’s father-in-law, Brian Chatland – a retired teacher, coach, referee, and member of the Canadian Rugby Hall of Fame, for whom a park in Markham is named – was dying of cancer, Bateman discovered what a struggle coordinating records retrieval from four hospitals could be.
“The problems aren’t with the legislation. The problem is with the process,” says Bateman. “There hasn’t been a lot of innovation.”
Bateman and fellow University of Toronto graduate engineering student Derrick Chow, now the company’s chief operating officer, launched MedChart in 2015, with the support of the MaRS Discovery District commercialization hub and incubator ventureLAB. Through the MaRS Embedded Executive Program, Dennis Giokas, longtime Chief Technology Officer with Canada Health Infoway, joined MedChart as Chief Information Officer in the fall of 2017.
The MedChart implementation is now one of three dozen being developed under the Health Ecosphere banner. Billed as “An Innovation Pipeline for Commercial Health Solutions,” the initiative is spearheaded by York University, Southlake and Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN), and funded to the tune of $15 million under the FedDev Ontario program. It’s also supplemented by $20 million from more than 30 partner hospitals, universities and technology companies.
Helping patients and third parties receive timely and confidential access to health records and related information “is vital for transforming healthcare to a patient-centred approach,” says Dr. Harvey Skinner, a professor at York University and Principal Investigator of the Health Ecosphere Project. “The MedChart Platform being tested and refined at Southlake offers an incredibly promising solution to this important problem.”
The scale of the problem shouldn’t be underestimated. A new White Paper from MedChart shows that an estimated 300 million hours are wasted yearly in North America on inefficiencies in the release of the information process.
Compliance with the 30-day release window has also been an issue. The White Paper estimates compliance at 62 percent in the existing system, with an average wait of 20 days for records release. Using MedChart, Southlake boasts 99 percent compliance, and an average turnaround of less than 48 hours.
Those “cost-curve bending” efficiencies will only become more important as patient volume increases, says Bull. Southlake currently receives 110,000 emergency room visits a year, and also provides cardiac, oncological and other specialty clinical services.
Uptake of the MedChart system by patients and third parties has been significant, as most of the institution’s requests for personal records each month are now being made online. Southlake has saved 74 percent in material costs for these requests. One surprise from the pilot: 73 percent of requests for information were made after business hours, a savings of time and money for patients and families, says Bateman.