Sunnybrook extends e-health in portal project

Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre is hoping to extend the electronic health information in its internal systems to a portal that will be accessed by chronic care patients.

The Toronto-based facility has launched a pilot project, which will probably run through the summer, where select patients are given a password to enter a portal where they can schedule appointments, refill medications, view test results and share information with other providers and caregivers. The portal technology was developed internally by a team of five Web developers at Sunnybrook and Women’s Health and is based on Coldfusion, among other products.

According to Sunnybrook and Women’s Health vice-president of eHealth Sam Marafioti, the plan is to roll out access to the portal through the hospital’s seven clinical priority programs, including cancer and osteoporosis. Clinicians in each program will be offered the portal as a toolset to work with their patients after they have been discharged. 

“We’ve just begun to start marketing this internally,” he said.

Marafioti said the portal project became possible once he was certain his team could export patient records from internal hospital systems and make them immediately available to clinicians as well as the patients themselves. The tool will allow patients to take a particularly granular view of their data, he added – a woman could sort through a range of lab results and monitor only those concerning her sodium levels, for example.

“This is something she could have done before internally, but not on her own,” Marafioti said. “It’s immediately accessible – there’s not much training involved.”

Sunnybrook and Women’s Health has designed the portal to provide a complete spectrum of family practice information, including medication, physiotherapy and other services such as applications for home care.

“This empowers the patient to take her health-care team and say she wants access to everything, and the form in which she wants it presented,” he said.

Sunnybrook and Women’s Health is using products from companies such as Verisign to ensure the security of the portal, and said the pilot is in part intended to ensure it complies with Ontario’s Personal Health Information and Privacy Act (PHIPA).

“This is what we want to tease out – are we rock-solid on security and confidentiality issues?” he said. “What we want to learn from this is the acceptance – is this truly enabling workflow? Internally, we want to learn what will it take for us to keep it at the level of niche and custom clinical requirements. Is that going to be easy to do over time?” 

Bonnie Freedman, who practices health and privacy law at Toronto-based Goodman Carr, said PHIPA mandates a series of obligations for providers of electronic health record systems to meet, rather than specific safeguards against information.

“When you’ve got a very dynamic area, you don’t want to put it into a statute or a regulation that’s going to be hard to amend. And you can’t be amending it every six months,” she said, adding that the concerns around protecting patient information has sparked more communication between application vendors and health-care providers.

“I’m not sure the paper-records were all that safeguarded, frankly. The problem is if something goes on with an electronic record, the impact can be far greater.”

Sunnybrook and Women’s Health has at least one patient, a former vice-chair of its board, using the portal, but she was unavailable for comment at press time.

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