Sunnybrook and OMA devise an interactive platform
June 30, 2020
TORONTO – Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the Ontario Medical Association are collaborating to extend the functionality of the MyChart patient portal, to support patients and doctors communicating online more easily, saving both time and effort.
MyChart, created by Sunnybrook and shared with other hospitals across Canada, is the largest patient portal in the country. In Ontario, it’s used by 658,000 patients in more than 70 of the province’s hospitals and labs.
The goal now is to give doctors access to those records, with permission of the patients, so they’re not flipping from one system to another for the data they need.
“Doctors are spending too much time opening multiple systems, searching in one place for lab information and in another for encounter or discharge information,” said Dr. Sohail Gandhi, a family physician and former President of the Ontario Medical Association. “It gets to be ludicrous.”
Instead, it would be so much easier to have one source of patient information, where the patient’s data has been consolidated, he said. The idea is to have MyChart serve that purpose, and to continue adding patients and functionality to the patient portal.
“It’s already the largest patient portal in the country, so it makes sense,” said Dr. Sohail. “The next biggest is only one-sixth of its size.”
And while MyChart has, to date, been largely a static warehouse, where patients could view their medical records data, enter personal data such as self-monitoring and provide access to trusted friends, family members and physicians, the goal now is to make it more transactional and interactive.
One significant step will be to incorporate videoconferencing into MyChart, so that patients can set-up and conduct video chats with their doctors. Payment for video visits is not yet supported by the Ontario government, except through the Ontario Telemedicine Network, but many believe it will be coming in the near future.
Also in the works are communication systems, as well as online prescription renewals and requests for forms, such as sick notes.
For uninsured services, beyond what is covered by the provincial government, like various forms, physicians will be able to charge patients online. “It’s a carrot for the doctors to use the system,” said Dr. Gandhi. “We’re building secure payment handling into the system, so it’s easy for the patient and for the physician.”
The idea is already proving popular with doctors. Dr. Gandhi said that when his team raised it with the OMA’s members, they hoped to receive expressions of interest from 200 to 300 physicians. “We’ve already heard from 800 of them, that they’re in support,” he said.
For his part, Dr. Gandhi got the ball rolling on the project while he was President of the OMA. He has since stepped down, but remains on the Board, and is still committed to the project.
He also has a good deal of experience with online systems. In the past, he was part of an e-Prescribing pilot in his home region of Georgian Bay, where 50 physicians working in a family health team consolidated on one EMR, sharing patient records with themselves and local pharmacists.
As well, he was part of a project that connected doctors to local nursing homes, dramatically enhancing the level of care for residents.
The project with Sunnybrook and MyChart is now under way and Dr. Gandhi expects it to go live this fall.
Sam Marafioti, VP, Capital, and CIO at Sunnybrook, said the initiative with the OMA is a significant one for MyChart, too.
“It’s our top priority at MyChart,” said Marafioti, noting that while MyChart continues to expand into additional hospitals, it’s also targeting greater integration with front-line physicians and community care providers.
“We have a strong community care integration going on,” said Marafioti. “We’re developing a whole community care platform.”
He noted that until now, MyChart has been largely “hospital-centric” and a system for viewing and sharing records.
In this next phase, it will broaden its scope into the healthcare continuum and also become more interactive, allowing exchanges between patients and care-givers.
In this way, MyChart could become the portal for information exchange for the new Ontario Health Teams, which are seeking to integrate various tiers of health providers – from acute and complex care hospitals, to nursing homes and retirement residences, to pharmacies and various medical and health clinics.
One of the problems to date, however, has been how to connect the disparate systems used by these care providers. From Marafioti’s perspective, MyChart could become the glue that binds them all together.
And for the consumer, MyChart has been working on an app that makes it easier to connect by using mobile devices such as smartphones, and to conduct transactions from this ubiquitous platform.
On the physician front, MyChart would like to integrate with the EMR systems used by doctors, so the connection would be even more seamless, with data loading back and forth automatically.
“We’ve already started doing this with physicians [in clinics] at Sunnybrook who are using Accuro,” said Marafioti. He and Dr. Gandhi would like to continue this work and get more of the EMR vendors on board.
By doing so, it would make so much more information quickly and easily available to doctors. “We should really be doing this,” said Marafioti. “It’s one of my hopes that we get it done.”