Three Ontario hospitals are developing physician Web portals that are expected to improve the quality of patient care. Agfa HealthCare Canada, the Canadian distributor of Medseek’s portal solutions, will develop portals for The Credit Valley Hospital, Scarborough General and Scarborough Grace.

“The province still does not have a single strategy for sharing that data, and in the absence of a provincial strategy, we’re putting together this regional network,” said Dan Germain, vice-president and CFO of The Credit Valley Hospital and e-health lead of the Mississauga Halton Local Integration Network. When Ontario develops a provincial strategy, the hospitals will be able to link into it via software (Agfa has some 130 interfaces available today).

The Credit Valley Hospital saw an immediate need for portal technology because it offers regional programs in areas such as cancer. “We get a lot of referrals from other facilities and to share the data is incredibly valuable to the clinicians,” said Germain. “We’re trying to bring together patient records at a regional level so a physician or clinician can go into the system, key in your name and have access to the information related to your visit.”

The hospital is in the process of installing Agfa’s Impax Clinical Dashboard solution (powered by Medseek), based on installations at Hamilton Health Sciences, William Osler Health Centre and Halton Healthcare Services. The application is expected to be up and running in June.

The application has the ability to bring in data from primary care physician offices and other systems. “It’s a question of what we do now versus our longer-term plan,” said Germain. “At this point the focus is on connecting hospitals. We’ve been collecting individual data for years – now it’s important for us to share the data with others.” A physician, for example, will be able to see X-ray images on a screen remotely from another facility. The goal, long term, is to reduce costs and improve the quality of patient care.

“Right now the health-care system we’re in is a very paper-based system when it comes to transferring patient information from one provider to another,” he said. In the future, he expects these transactions will be handled electronically.

There has been a gap in the adoption of portal technologies, said Andrew Gilles, marketing manager of enterprise solutions with Agfa Healthcare Inc. But now that Internet technologies are mainstream and people regularly use e-mail, hospitals are starting to adopt portal strategies.

“Agfa is trying to evolve our entire market into a more vendor-neutral environment,” he said. “Typically interoperability and connectivity between all of these separate systems and databases has been the biggest issue to date.” There’s a clear need in the market, he said, to be able to access these disparate databases simultaneously in order to acquire information at the point of patient care – which is what its partnership with Medseek is based upon.

“Most large vendors are using a rip and replace method,” said Curt Thornton, vice-president of strategic partnerships with Medseek. “Our approach is to embrace and extend their existing systems – we’re pulling the data from the source system.”

Medseek, which came about as a merger with Access Point, entered into an exclusive distributorship with Agfa HealthCare Canada in order to gain a foothold in the Canadian market. Because of Canada’s public health-care system, he believes the ability to share patient data will come about faster here than in the U.S.

The challenge ahead is to get all the regional hospitals onboard, said Germain. Beyond that, the challenge lies in connecting other organizations, such as long-term care facilities and primary care physician offices, to the hospitals.

“What we need in order to do some of that is a good infrastructure,” he said. “That background work has to happen to put a software layer on top.” It’s always easy to plan, but execution is the tough part. “It comes down to money because these systems will cost,” he said. “But we need to take those small steps to get to the larger picture. At the end of the day, the patients are going to ask for it.”

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