Contributed by Surya Qarin, OntarioMD Practice Management Assistant
Anyone that has known me long enough knows I have spent much of my life in and out of hospitals – and that’s not because the doctors are cute. As a matter of fact, Etobicoke General’s nurses and I are on a first name basis now, and they know exactly which vein works best when drawing blood, and which ones “hide.”
As a child, I was hospitalized every other week for severe asthma. It seemed to subside after I turned 12… at least I thought it did. I didn’t even think asthma was a real issue for adults. I’d always been told people outgrow it. But this is not the case: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9.7% of women aged 18 or older have asthma and are more likely to die of asthma than men. Adults are also four times more likely to die of asthma than children. Asthma Canada stats show that up to 250,000 Canadians are living with severe asthma.
Asthma returned to my life a few years ago, as a moderate condition. I had become more active, believing it would help with my other health issues (which it did). As long as I took my puffers before and after working out, I would not have any issues with breathing.
Then flu season hit, and I got sick a few times between December 2016 and February 2017. Those who know me understand my strong belief that I am super woman and do not like to complain about being sick or having “a little cold.” Unfortunately, this was not just a small cold: it had turned from a cold, to bronchitis, to full blown pneumonia by April 2017. Even then, I still refused to see a doctor. One day, on my drive home from work, I felt a sharp chest pain, and something didn’t seem right. I was not just having a little difficulty while breathing as I had been the last few months. I actually could not breathe.
Gasping for air, I pulled over, sent a quick text to my sister and drove to Humber River Hospital. There, I realized how difficult it would be for me to get my medical records: My family doctor was not affiliated with the hospital, nor was Etobicoke General. They were, however, able to pull my past drug history from my pharmacy and go based off that information. I was stabilized and discharged.
A few days later, my breathing difficulties returned. I went into Etobicoke General, and they were able to pull my history right away and admit me to hospital within the hour. Turns out my lungs had started shutting down due to the pneumonia and asthma, and as it was high-humidity and high-allergy season, being outside did not help me. During my stay in the hospital, my family doctor received hospital reports via Health Report Manager (HRM) and he was kept updated on my condition, as were my respirologist and cardiologist.
After a few weeks of recovery, I thought all was well. However, I caught a “cold” again in October, and this time things deteriorated fast! I ended up in hospital yet again. My respirologist was made aware of my condition in real time via the hospital’s EMR and was able to work with the other respirologist on duty and doctors working on my case to provide the best course of treatment given my history. My current spirometry test results were easily available for the clinicians, and the instant connectivity between those on my medical team helped improve my care and recovery process.
Once again, my family doctor’s ability to receive hospital reports to his EMR through HRM enabled him to follow-up accordingly, ensure I had the contacts I needed for my health, schedule regular testing, and most importantly, help ensure that I didn’t end up in the hospital again. I’m happy to say that I have not been hospitalized overnight since November of 2017.
As a member of the team at OntarioMD, I help clinicians across the province understand the value that EMRs and digital health tools such as HRM can bring to their practice and the quality of patient care they’re able to provide. But being a patient in the health care system has really demonstrated the importance of these tools to me first-hand. If you’re a clinician who has questions about optimizing your EMR use, or you want to connect to HRM or the wide range of other digital health tools in Ontario, contact OntarioMD at email@example.com.
As 2018’s graduates enter the workforce, OntarioMD would like to congratulate everyone and provide a perspective to women considering a career in digital health and health informatics. Our new Women in Digital Health vlog (video blog posts) series highlights women leaders at OntarioMD who chose a career dedicated to digital health with the ultimate goals of improving patient care and making Ontario’s health care system more efficient. They talk about their passion, career paths and provide advice to new grads and women already in the health care sector. Watch the first vlog featuring OntarioMD Chief Executive Officer, Sarah Hutchison.
I am a family physician in Cambridge with 1,400 patients serving 2 nursing homes in an 18-physician family health team with 30,000 patients in total. I have spent 26 years as a physician, with 20 years’ experience as an emergency physician.
A recent survey in the Medical Post listed paperwork as the biggest stressor for physicians. Luckily for me, paperwork is a thing of the past as we have eliminated paper coming from hospitals and specialty clinics and gone digital using Health Report Manager (HRM). It was easy to implement, and both my office manager and I have found that it saves us time to focus on delivering better patient care.
HRM is simple to implement as OntarioMD does all the work in helping to get your practice set up. OntarioMD came into my practice to sign subscription and user agreements and TELUS helped with the set-up of the system. Report types such as imaging, emergency, specialist and other hospital reports automatically downloaded into our EMR system. This eliminated the need to store paper reports. If I were to get an MRI report showing a brain tumour, I can quickly call the patient in and refer them to a specialist.
I can also access lab results through my EMR via the Ontario Laboratories Information System (OLIS). I simply login into my computer and click on lab reports to view any abnormal patient results. If a patient’s potassium level comes back low, I can simply tell my office manager to tell they will need to change their diet or take certain medications.
One of the newer digital health tools I’ve connected to is eConsult. I can send a message and documentation to a specialist anywhere in Ontario without having to send my patient for an in-person visit. This means faster advice, usually within a couple of days, I can use for my patient who doesn’t have to wait months to benefit from a specialist’s advice.
These tasks are all done without paper. Prior to using an EMR, HRM, OLIS and eConsult, receiving, sending and viewing patient health information was tedious and time consuming. In the past, all my reports were mailed or faxed. We would have to physically travel to the hospital and pick up the paper reports daily. Then the paper report was scanned, the patient’s file had to be opened and the report dragged there. Then my office manager would mark it as seen by me.
With HRM, I see a patient’s report as soon as it downloads. With a couple of clicks, the information is posted into the patient’s chart. I no longer need to go to the hospital and wait for mail and faxes. Now I can receive specialist reports the same day of the patient’s visit all thanks to HRM. HRM also sends me eNotifications so I know when my patients were in the hospital and know that I can expect hospital reports to follow.
My practice is more efficient all thanks to my EMR and other digital health tools like HRM. They have benefitted my practice by:
Enabling me to find patient information quickly
Allowing me to spot trends and abnormalities
Providing faster patient follow-ups
Accessing specialist advice and getting responses sooner
Enabling more time spent on patient care
Creating workflow efficiencies
Less time spent on administrative and operational tasks
Physicians and other clinicians need digital health tools to practice medicine today. They really need the services of OntarioMD to advise them on how to go digital. You can start with one digital service and OntarioMD will help you integrate it into your workflow. Or, you can start with multiple digital health tools. OntarioMD can connect you to all of them and help you understand how to use them effectively to care for patients and to manage your practice. If you hate paperwork like I do, contact OntarioMD to get HRM, eNotifications, OLIS, eConsult or any other available provincial digital health tools (e.g., ONE® ID, ONE Mail, ConnectingOntario Clinical Viewer and more). Call 1-866-744-8668 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s Digital Health Shift vlog is the third in a video series of OntarioMD CMO, Dr. Darren Larsen, speaking about the EMR Quality Dashboard. In this segment, Dr. Larsen discusses how leadership and collaboration amongst health care organizations are driving change to benefit patient care.
Submitted by Amanda Story, OntarioMD Practice Advisor
On April 11, 2017, at the Muskoka Algonquin Health Centre in Huntsville, my third child was born. Clark was a perfect 19 inches long and 7.7 pounds, with a full head of hair. But things quickly got scary, when his blood sugar and body temperature began dropping and his breathing became irregular. He was stabilized, and we were transferred to Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital.
Little did we know our journey with Kabuki Syndrome was about to begin. Kabuki syndrome is a rare, multisystem disorder characterized by multiple abnormalities including facial features, growth delays, varying degrees of intellectual disability, skeletal abnormalities, and short stature. There’s also the potential for a wide variety of additional symptoms affecting different organ systems. Kabuki syndrome affects males and females in equal numbers, and specific symptoms can vary greatly from one person to another. The incidence of Kabuki syndrome has been estimated to be somewhere between 1 in 32,000 to 1 in 86,000 individuals in the general population.
Sick Kids Hospital was up and running on a computerized charting system, and was able to get all the test results from our local hospital quickly. It was amazing how hospital information flowed – physicians of all specialties sharing one chart, no test duplication, everyone knowing and seeing what had been ordered, what was pending and what the plan was. I was a stressed out, tired and scared mom, and I appreciated not having to repeat Clark’s history over and over again. When Clark would decide to throw a wrench in the plan, it was easy for the nurse and I to note it and a message was sent to the physician to get new orders and/or a new plan. The digital health system made it easy for the changes to be communicated to his entire team of cardiologists, respirologists, and endocrinologists.
Eventually Clark rallied, and we were transferred closer to home, to The North Bay Regional Health Centre. It was a big adjustment. We were surprised that communication between Sick Kids and North Bay Regional Health Centre was by paper and mail. When Clark regressed a bit, it was hard to compare results, causing duplicate tests and delayed treatment while phone calls were made to discuss results. We had experienced the power of digital health at Sick Kids, and appreciated how all the health care providers were connected. At the time, North Bay didn’t offer this – though it has since implemented a computerized system. It did offer video conference calls through the Ontario Telemedicine Network’s system, which allowed Clark’s entire team to connect and get his treatment back on track.
We finally made it home after a couple more weeks. Unfortunately, our stay at home was short. Within a couple of months, Clark caught a cold and a bad cough. We quickly took him back to North Bay Regional Health Centre, where he was admitted and put under observation. After the first 24 hours, Clark got worse. The following day, he went from needing a little bit of oxygen support to needing to be intubated and rushed to The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), which had been consulted during his rapid decline. During transportation, his heart got tired and arrested from working so hard to make up for the decreased lung function. The amazing transfer team from Ornge was able to revive him quickly en route to CHEO. The Pediatric Intensive Care unit was ready and had pulled together a team to assess him and move him to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which is a heart and lung bypass to allow him to heal.
CHEO had just implemented a computerized charting system called EPIC. It allowed the hospital to flow information around his care, similar to what we’d seen at Sick Kids. Everyone could see and use the same information in real time to assist with coordinating Clark’s care. His entire team at CHEO – Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), cardiology, vascular surgery, perfusionists, respirology, genetics immunology, infection control, physiotherapy and pain and symptom management, along with imaging and pharmacy, were all working in one chart around a single patient. This was digital health at its best – facilitating communications and transitions in care.
Our family physician was also kept informed through her office EMR, using Health Report Manager (HRM) to get Clark’s hospital reports quickly and keep up to date on his progress. I received many phone calls for support and counselling without having to give updates or go into details. It very much kept me sane during a very scary time.
When Clark was able to be transferred to recovery, the same chart, same information and same teams followed him. Even after discharge, the amazing efficiency of digital health still helps us to this day with his scheduled follow-ups. Each team can communicate and coordinate his appointments into clusters that help us save travel time, and tests and procedures can be grouped together to help minimize Clark’s discomfort.
I am very thankful for the adoption of digital health by Ontario hospitals and health care providers. I’ve seen the high level of accuracy and understanding it offered to everyone involved in Clark’s care. It made me feel comfortable and confident that the physicians had access to everything they needed all in one shareable electronic record. Clark’s medical information followed him wherever he was treated. Digital health has helped connect all the hospitals we visited with Clark, so they could share information and make the best decisions for his care. The digital health change in our health care system is also providing more information quickly and easily to family physicians everywhere in the province. Keeping physicians up to date to provide supportive care to caregivers and other family members is easier and faster. I am convinced that digital health is removing many barriers to efficient and effective health care in Ontario, and I honestly believe it helped save my baby’s life!
Clark is growing stronger daily. We have celebrated many “inchstones” such as regaining head and neck control and re-learning how to roll over, along with a few milestones such as pulling his socks off. He is a very happy baby that brings so much light into our lives.
This Digital Health Shift vlog is the second in a video series of OntarioMD Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darren Larsen discussing the EMR Quality Dashboard. This segment focuses on how the EMR Quality Dashboard delivers Quality Improvement to patient care.
In this Digital Health Shift vlog, OntarioMD Chief Medical Information Officer Dr. Darren Larsen discusses the need to help physicians move beyond simply focusing on patient care for individuals, toward being able to more easily analyze their entire patient population and proactively those at risk. OntarioMD is focused on improving population-based care through the development of EMR-integrated tools such as our EMR Quality Dashboard proof of concept, which translate EMR data through user-friendly visualization. And, through the ongoing development of our Quality Support Program, we’re providing the support and education physicians need to improve EMR data quality for efficient population-based care.
Dr. Darren Larsen is Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO) at OntarioMD. As CMIO, Darren provides clinical advice to many provincial and national steering committees and clinician advisory groups and has been instrumental in forging system-level partnerships in many sectors. Darren is a tireless champion of optimization of EMRs and health informatics in empowering Ontario’s physicians, with a focus on quality patient care and practice efficiency. He provides a clinician perspective and guides all aspects of OntarioMD’s work to evolve and advance EMRs and digital health for primary care and community specialist clinics. This includes clinical practice change, quality improvement, data quality and analytics, and EMR maturity measurement. He recently shared his insights with RDP Associates on the state of innovation in Canada’s digital health sector.
Canada’s biotech and health-tech industries are among the most dynamic and innovative sub-sectors of the tech industry. But despite its dynamism, scaling up and go-to-market remain pressing challenges. Why is that?
Indeed, Canadian minds are anteing up some amazing ideas in the digital health space. We have such a strong well to draw upon for creativity and innovation. There is an endless need for new products, services and thinking in health care, for patients, providers and the health system, yet despite the demand, it is incredibly hard to bring innovation to market. I frequently say that real change requires resolution not revolution, and it is hard to maintain excitement and enthusiasm when the system falls short of the needs of innovators beyond the ideation phase. The reasons for this are complex, but some key issues that we could collectively work on to try to improve the situation quickly bubble up.
a) There is very low tolerance for failure in health care. Some of this is predictable, based on clinicians’ training in evidence. Some fall at the health system level, where even small failures lead to blame rather than learning, and it often becomes a story on the front pages of a newspaper. Some of this is even cultural. As Canadians, we do not trust our own innovators until they have been proven in another market or immediately hit the news.
b) Our classic public-sector procurement rules are complicated and hard to navigate. This leads to a bias toward established companies which have greater capability to persist and respond.
c) There is a basic distrust of business in our socialized health care system. The private sector is viewed with suspicion, and the introduction of profit motives makes those of us who believe and have invested in socialized medicine, somewhat wary. We must find a middle ground.
d) Regulatory issues abound in health-tech, from Health Canada medical device status rules, to technical standards often being vague, to privacy legislation being used as an excuse to stop innovation even when it is designed to permit it.
e) The investment/venture capital landscape is different and less permissive in Canada than it is in the US. It is frankly easier to find investors and backers south of the border than it is within our own country.
f) The desire to take a chance on promoting and partnering with new companies is low in Canada. We are guilty of “death by a thousand pilot projects” and accept this as the norm. Most pilots are created to test a very narrow product or service window of safety rather than facilitate scale and spread of the same. Unlike in the start-up space, in healthcare, we lack the “fail fast and fail forward mentality”, which is essential to the innovative process.
Many government grants are generic, but some are industry-specific such as those for clean-tech and agri-tech. Do we need specific grants that target biotech and health-tech sectors to ease some of the challenges they’re facing?
This might well be an option to try. The use of grant money could be tied to co-design or creative procurement that does not predict the final end-point for a product, but rather allows it to evolve organically until it reaches a desired state or value. Design thinking methodology could, and likely should be placed into the grant awarding process. Technology engineers, designers, and providers must align to ensure that they have created a product or service that is actually needed. Then, a shift to value-based funding and support might ensure ongoing success. Currently, many innovation grants do not consider scale and spread of an idea or product. There are incubators that provide in-kind expertise rather than cash. And there are investors who want to see successful companies move forward. The sweet spot is combining these in partnerships.
How would you describe the relationship between the government and Canada’s tech sector including its startup community? Where do health-tech and health care fit into their dynamics?
I possess a cautious optimism in this space. There is certainly an increase in the promotion of start-ups and a growing community of innovators who network and learn from each other. Also, we are seeing some fantastic government-supported or -partnered innovation hubs like MaRS, McMaster Innovation Park, the BMZ and DMZ at Ryerson University, and Velocity at the University of Waterloo, which are great as examples in Ontario alone (and more nationally: Ontario even has a Chief Health Innovation Strategist in the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, William Charnetski. These are great starts, but these are early days and this is still nascent work. It will take a long time to change a culture.
Are there sub-sectors of Canadian healthcare that conduct a significant amount of R&D?
I see a lot of progress in Canada now with the creation of health care “living labs“. These are unique spaces where partnerships are used to test products in working environments like hospital units (Mackenzie Health, Southlake Hospital) or human-centred design spaces (UHN Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, JLabs by Johnson and Johnson, Bridgepoint Active Healthcare) or digital health evaluation spaces (MEDIC at Mohawk College, WIHV at Women`s College Hospital). These serve as platforms for integrated thinking about solving clinical problems using integrated technology, not as siloed projects that are procured individually. I believe these may be our future.
What is your definition of a ‘value-based healthcare system’ and what are its key defining parameters?
Value takes many forms and changes according to who is looking for it and what their goal is. Certainly, from the government’s perspective, the value can be calculated in the ratio of quality (or outcomes) over cost. This is very important when setting budgets and ensuring that they are getting what they pay for. This is often the default value proposition in a publicly-funded health system, and it is indeed important.
Value, as measured by a patient, is a whole other proposition. They may value being listened to, having a concern demystified, or simply being told they will be fine.
The clinician perspective exists in the intersection of the health system and patient lived experience. We face the multifaceted challenges of unprecedented demographic change, medical system evolution, and continual demands to innovate every day. But on the positive side, this can challenge physicians in creating solutions.
Ultimately, the value can be only generated in trusted relationships. All three players in healthcare (funder, provider, patient) must work on mutual trust to achieve common goals. This is more than value; it is being valuable.
Do you think the newly revamped tax laws in the U.S could be incentivizing Canadian health-tech companies to move south?
Certainly, permissive tax rules may have an influence, but I believe that tech companies venture south before developing a strong presence in Canada for some far more basic reasons. The US market is much larger. An entrepreneurial spirit is deeply ingrained in American culture. There is greater degree of tolerance for failure. There is much more capital to draw upon from investors who are willing to take a chance on health-tech, knowing that they will win some and they will lose some. Still, there are challenges in the US too. It is a dog-eat-dog world in health care south of our border. Sometimes the stories of speed in success or failure are a distraction from a business purpose that enables longevity. Real change requires resolution rather than revolution.
This interview was conducted by Reza Akhlaghi, a digital content and social media strategist at RDP Associates.
Information and data have value in every industry. The value of data in health care is only beginning to bloom. Who owns it, though?
Patients undoubtedly have rights with respect to their medical records. It goes unrecognized by most, however, that physicians own the value of data with their electronic charts.
Patients have rights to the content of the data within their medical records. The charts contain their personal information. This is unquestionable. However, the value of data comes from its structure and the organization, which is fully dependent on the physician who generates and maintains the medical record.
The organization of a patient’s chart may vary from being a barely legible handwritten paper chart to the other end of the spectrum of being a complex Electronic Medical Record (EMR) with the advanced data structure. Across the spectrum, the exact same patient information (content), can have widely different functionality and analyzability (value). This quality differential is entirely dependent on the physician and there can be extreme differences when comparing the charts, and thus data quality, of one physician to another.
Governments covet the value of the aggregate, even anonymized, data within EMRs for planning and policy purposes. Pharmaceutical companies share a similar craving for the data for marketing and development purposes. Innumerable interest groups and organizations equally desire data that relates to their agendas. (The legalities and ethics of sharing or selling data are beyond the scope of this article. Rather, the intent of this article is to identify and raise awareness of the value of EMR data that physicians possess).
As per College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), “patients have a right of access to their personal health information that is in the custody or under the control of” a physician.1 Patients can request copies of their charts. Even if the original chart was in EMR format, though, what the patient is entitled to and receives is either a printed paper copy of the records, or an electronic PDF document saved on a CD or memory stick, for example. In these formats, the data has relatively nil to minimal value because it is not structured in a way that is easily navigated and analyzed.
Physicians, and staff hired by physicians are the ones who input the notes and structure the data within their charts. Many physicians further build and customize tools within their EMRs to aid in the documentation. Physicians are the ones who pay for the EMR software, training, and vendor support. Physicians are the ones who are responsible for funding all of the computer hardware, technical support, and the physical space in which to house the infrastructure. Accordingly, in every sense, physicians own their EMRs.
One might try to argue that part of the payment to physicians from Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) for their services includes the generation and maintenance of the medical record.2 However, OHIP simply mandates and includes payment for physicians to “keep and maintain appropriate medical records”.3 It specifies nothing with respect to a standard of quality. The CPSO has more specific requirements.1 However, even a legible and complete paper chart meets those standards of care. Anything above and beyond the minimum baseline of those requirements has value, and that value is derived from, and therefore owned by, the physician who generates and maintains that chart.
There is obvious variability with respect to the quality of data within physicians’ EMRs. The difference from one extreme to another highlights the differences in the value of EMR data. Physicians own that value.
Patients have rights to the content of their individual data. Physicians own the organization, structure, functionality, and analyzability of the data. Physicians own their EMRs. It follows that physicians own the value of the aggregate data within their EMRs. These are careful and important distinctions.