‘We’re still using fax machines…’

Alberta’s Health Minister has struck a task force to investigate the creation of an integrated provincial health information system after the College of Physicians and Surgeons told a legislature committee this week the current system is “woefully inadequate.”

Stephen Mandel has chosen Alberta Health Services administrator Carl Amrhein to lead the task force to look into the business case for a provincial clinical information system and report back early in the new year, Mandel’s spokesman Steve Buick said Friday.

“This is a group to take a first look at it for the minister and get back to him quickly,” he said. “The thinking is we need a single provincial system.”

The task force, which will include officials from the Health Quality Council, Alberta Health, AHS and Alberta Innovates – Health, is expected to hold its first meeting  next week, Buick said.

The auditor general called on the government in a September report to improve the electronic medical record system, noting there are at least 12 different medical record systems being used by Alberta family physicians, and more than 20 per cent don’t use electronic records at all.

“We’re still using fax machines to communicate,” Health Quality Council CEO Andrew Neuner told the public accounts committee.

College of Physicians and Surgeons registrar Trevor Theman said the current electronic system is a failure.

“We are currently in a state now where it appears there is unanimity that there should be a single system and there has to be interoperability,” he said.

PC MLA Steve Young told the public accounts meeting the province spent $300 million or more on electronic medical records for doctors “and really got nothing more than electronic isolated file systems.”

“Do we realize we need to have data exchange standards before we start adding systems? We need systems to talk,” he said. “It blows my mind.”

Young, who has been asked to serve on the task force, said in an interview Friday the province has spent a significant amount of money with good intentions to bring medical records from paper to the electronic format, but none of the systems talk to each other and share information.

But he believes the various systems can be adapted to enable sharing of medical information between medical providers, health facilities and pharmacists.

“We need to have a secure, effective system of systems,” said Young.

Alberta Medical Association president-elect Carl Nohr told the committee an integrated health information system would provide access to a single comprehensive record for every patient that covers all the care received.

“There are different ways a system like that could be built. No matter which way it’s done, it’s going to take time and investment,” he said. “The AMA believes that in the short term we can leverage some of the technology that we have in place today to get some results sooner than later and make use of some of the significant investment that’s already been made.”

The committee heard the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled health records belong to patients and the goal is to provide complete records online so patients can easily access their own files.

dhenton@calgaryherald.com

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