Front-line health care providers, quality improvement organizations, digital health delivery leaders and government recognize that digital health delivery has become an indispensable support to keep up with increasing health system demands. It is no longer imaginable that health care could be delivered without digital information technology to manage the array of information processed and recorded for patients every minute in Ontario physician practices, hospitals, home care, long-term care homes, public health units and health care provider practices across the continuum of care. All have adopted digital health tools, in varying degrees, to manage and support patient care.
There is a lot of discussion about what digital health doesn’t do yet – the promise not yet fulfilled, and definitely the glass half empty analogy. What about the glass half full? It is truly important to understand what digital health is doing every day in the health care system.
I’m going to focus on digital health in primary care because that is the area in which we spend our time as an organization. OntarioMD has been at the forefront to rollout digital tools and services across the province to support and enable efficient and effective practice and underpinning the delivery of excellent care to patients. We are known for our success in getting electronic medical records (EMRs) into the hands of community-based family physicians and specialists. From a province with one of the lowest adoption rates when our work began, to now one of the highest. How valuable are EMRs to the health care system? They’re more valuable than people may realize. More than 15,000 physicians and more than 1,100 nurse practitioners are using them to care for about 11 million Ontarians.
EMRs in primary care enable clinicians to manage your personal health information in a secure manner. EMRs require login credentials to access information, and no charts will be misplaced or lost. Protecting personal health information is critical to all of us. EMRs are the secure virtual filing cabinet to protect your information and make it accessible only to those to whom you give consent. We take privacy and security obligations very seriously and we offer a comprehensive program to enable physicians to stay up-to-date on their obligations and how to protect your information in their EMR systems.
Let’s say you were in the hospital emergency department last week and experiencing severe abdominal pain. If your physician used an EMR, they would be getting your discharge summary about your visit from the hospital directly to the EMR through OntarioMD’s Health Report Manager (HRM). They see your discharge summary in their EMR inbox, with a summary of your visit and it is increasingly likely that they may have called you for a follow-up appointment before you call the office.
Whether you are a patient with a single lab test or you require regular laboratory tests to be performed. Physicians are sent your results electronically by the laboratory, and they can also query OLIS (Ontario Laboratory Information System) to see your results. EMRs enable the physician to display results graphically, and this makes a lot easier to review trends in your results, supporting discussions about what might be working well or where attention needs to be focused.
Prescriptions generated and managed in EMRs provide extraordinary value. With an EMR, your physician can alert about drug indications or potential conflicts with current medications. Thousands of Ontarians experience adverse events due to drug interactions every year. EMRs have helped to reduce adverse drug events. It is one of the most valuable things digital health delivers for patients and the health care system.
If your physician wants to ask a specialist about something, he or she can make a request through an online portal and get an answer often in hours. This means you don’t have to wait for months and then take time away from family or work to go to a specialist for something that could have been dealt with by your family physician. OntarioMD is working with our partners in the Ontario eConsult Program to make it even easier for physicians to request an eConsult through their EMRs. This is just one of the ways we’re connecting the health care system to benefit patients.
Back to the glass half empty – can everyone in the health care system seamlessly exchange data electronically to care for patients? No, but we’re getting there. Ontario physicians understand that the way forward is digital. They see its value and potential by using their EMRs and connecting to OntarioMD products and services and those of our partners that augment the value of digital health to realize better patient outcomes and healthier Ontarians.
What about the physicians who use digital health and their needs? It’s great that they’re using digital health in increasing numbers to care for patients. We care about their workflows and ensuring that they get the training and ongoing support they need. We know that it is important to create capacity in a physician’s office to support their adoption and best use of digital health tools and services, all while they are getting on with their most important work – delivering excellent care to their patients.
Let’s keep working together to fill that glass and realize even more value for our health care system!