Contributed by Sarah Hutchison
On January 24, OntarioMD had the honour of welcoming Norway’s Ambassador to Canada, Her Excellency, Mrs. Anne Kari Hansen Ovind, and the Minister of Health and Care Services, Mr. Bent Høie and his delegation, to our office. The purpose of the visit was to discuss common themes in digital health faced by Norway and Ontario, and how lessons learned in both jurisdictions can impact how we enable system priorities, leadership, and innovation looking forward.
The Norwegian delegation was very interested in learning about OntarioMD’s success in implementing electronic medical records (EMRs) in community-based family physician and specialist practices and how successes with EMR integrated products and services align with Ontario’s Patient’s First Digital Health strategy and priorities. While there will always be more to do, these products and services are already leading to a more connected digital health system in Ontario given the strong and connected foundation that they now represent.
We talked about the critical success factors and methodologies used to deploy products and services to physician practices. OntarioMD’s engaged EMR vendor community and our EMR Certification Program are key enablers for digital health and have created a very valuable mechanism to translate health system priorities using EMR Specifications, into EMR functionality that drives EMR use by physicians. Other partnerships have also led to the success of our work. There are many organizations that want to deploy their products to physicians but reaching the diversity and range of physician practices across the province is a challenge. There is increasing recognition that to be more effective as a system we must make it easier for physicians to adopt technology, being very attentive to minimizing the administrative burden for physicians and minimizing disruption at the practice level which means a responsibility to create alignment with our partners. We also need to provide the opportunity for innovative vendors with great solutions in health care to have a delivery channel that makes sense for all.
For the adoption and sustained use of digital health products and services, robust change management support is a core ingredient. This support is available to physician practices anywhere in Ontario and provided by Practice Advisors with in-depth knowledge of EMRs and other digital health products and services; a network of over 50 Peer Leaders (physicians, nurse practitioners and clinic managers) mentor and educate physicians and their staff on how to make improvements to their EMR use; and the EMR Practice Enhancement Program that provides intensive coaching for physician practices to standardize data, improve the quality and integrity of data, improve preventive care, improve internal workflow processes to enhance the patient experience and much more. We agreed that digital health is often NOT about the availability of technology, but about creating capacity and support for the clinicians who are end users.
The delegation and OntarioMD had a lot of shared themes to discuss – from population health priorities, the impact of privacy and security, access to data, quality improvement, and patient engagement and how innovation and new technology will continue to present great opportunities and challenges alike. Norway has tackled many of these themes and has also developed methodologies and best practices that have been effective in its digital health eco-system. With increased globalization, we increasingly recognize that forums, such as the one we were privileged to participate in, will continue to advance our paradigms and challenge our thinking about the future of digital health.