The Ontario Hospital eHealth Council says it will spend the next year working toward a unique patient identification system across the province, improving the communication among hospitals and developing a way of assessing the state of IT in local health-care centres.

Set up three years ago

to advise the Ontario government on the use of IT in the health care system, the council recently received renewed funding of just under $1 million from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Tom Closson, chair of the council and president and chief executive of the University Health Network, said right now, every health-care agency has its own unique patient identifier.

“”I don’t know how many hospitals you’ve been in, but I bet you probably have a plastic card for each one,”” he said. Much of the information one hospital gathers about a patient is not readily available to another hospital if the same patient is admitted there.

Among other things, that means when a patient is admitted to an emergency department, information about the drugs that person is taking is not on hand. “”The emergency department physician has to guess,”” Closson said.

Closson said creating a unique patient identifier for Ontario should be relatively quick, because it can be built on the Ontario Health Insurance Program (OHIP) system, which already provides a unique identifier for everyone except people who are not eligible for OHIP coverage. He noted B.C. already has a system that gives every hospital and pharmacist access to information about the prescription drugs every patient in the province is taking.

The council also wants to see improved electronic communication among hospitals and other parts of the health-care system. This would go hand in hand with a unique patient identifier, Closson said, but would also include a directory of e-mail addresses of hospitals, family physicians and so forth, as well as a secure system for exchanging information. “”If I want to send information from my hospital to a family physician or to another hospital,”” he said, “”there are no yellow pages or white pages I can go to to find out what their e-mail address is.”” There is also no secure channel for sending the data.

On the advice of the council, he added, the provincial government is planning to pilot such a secure communications system soon.

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