The board of Island Health and the health providers in Nanaimo have taken on an enormous challenge to introduce an electronic health record system.
If implementing an EHR were easy, it would have been done long ago. It is more than 25 years since a former dean of medicine lamented: “Most corner grocery stores have better electronic records than our Canadian hospitals.” It has taken a long time, hard work and incredible patience to develop the EHR.
While it is a complex and difficult challenge, having an EHR will be worth the effort. It is impossible to imagine a grocery store staff providing service without the latest electronic system. Or to imagine an airline booking passengers, co-ordinating flights and maintaining security without modern information systems. Health providers are on the cusp of benefitting from technology to assist them as they face similar expectations in their daily practice.
A modern EHR is of vital importance to a quality and safe health system. Decades ago, the U.S. Institute of Medicine recognized that thousands of preventable deaths in hospitals were the result of medication errors and other recording mistakes. These errors were not the fault of any one party, but the result of a poorly designed system.
Continued use of the current systems with the known limitations and failures holds too many risks for all of us.
So why are electronic health records important? The auditor general of Canada answered this way: “Electronic health records … offer solutions to a number of persistent problems in Canada’s health system, some of which can be attributed to the use of paper-based health records. With EHRs, it is expected that health-care professionals would be better able to share patient information, thus avoiding unnecessary or duplicate diagnostic tests, multiple prescriptions and the risk of adverse drug reactions.
“Ultimately, the use of EHRs could reduce patient wait times, reduce costs and save lives.”
The duty of the Island Health board, the minister of health and all professional health providers is to ensure quality care for the citizens they serve.
The various individuals involved in developing the EHR in Nanaimo are pioneers in changing systems for the betterment of their patients. Changes of this magnitude demand focused leadership, shared goals and respectful dialogue.
Provider input to improve the electronic health record is important, indeed essential. Providers who express concern and identify specific problems are vitally important to overcoming glitches in the system. Everyone involved should be supported and encouraged to assist.
At this time, everyone concerned for the well-being of those they serve must “pull together in the same direction” to achieve success.
Many improvements have occurred in our hospitals in recent years, but only through an electronic recording system will it be possible to measure and monitor quality, safety, results and outcomes of medical services and ultimately to save lives.
An editorial in the Canadian Medical Journal in 2010 concluded: “Our slow progress on electronic health records should act as a call to action. An electronic health record system with access for everyone — family physicians, consultants, pharmacists, hospitals, managers and researchers — will save lives and improve health outcomes. Canadians deserve nothing less.”
I congratulate everyone involved, because the successful implementation of a modern EHR is of vital importance to the quality, the safety and the sustainability of our health system for the citizens of Nanaimo, Vancouver Island and very likely all of Canada. Delaying the implementation, in 2016, would be regrettable.
While implementation of an EHR is a difficult and challenging task, I urge all parties involved to stick with it, accomplish your admirable goal and reap the benefits you so much deserve.
Ken Fyke is the former CEO of the Capital Health Region, former deputy minister of health in Saskatchewan and B.C., former commissioner on the B.C. Royal Commission on Health Care and Costs and author of Saskatchewan’s Commission on Medicare.