Alberta to upgrade e-health through $10M IBM deal

The Government of Alberta Wednesday said it will upgrade its e-health records system across the province through a $10-million contract with IBM.

Alberta has had an e-health system in place for approximately three years, but an upgraded system that could simplify case management was deemed necessary, said Carole Stevenson-Roy, a spokesperson for the province.

A portal-based product from health-care specialist Orion was chosen to replace a mix of applications that were “cobbled together” as the province’s needs increased.

“It became obvious to scale to the number of providers that we needed and to have it be able to more efficiently look at data components, we should be looking at the Orion portal product,” she said.

IBM Canada will be responsible for overseeing the rollout of the product for the duration of the two-year contract. “A lot of our involvement around the EHR (electronic health record) deployment is less technology-focused and more heavily focused on the human side of it,” explained Todd Kalyniuk, a partner with IBM Global Business Services practice.

“We’re . . . helping the potential users of the solutions within the Alberta health-care system to prepare themselves to be well-trained, well-organized, etc., so that they’re able to use the technology in the day-to-day provision of care,” he added.

Use of the EHR is voluntarily, so one of IBM’s responsibilities will be to design and carry out a recruitment program to encourage health-care providers to adopt the system. IBM will make site visits to individual providers to help them get set up and provide continued support through a help line.

The idea is to make the rollout manageable for health-care providers and allow them to adopt a new records system with minimal disruption.

GPs often see 30 to 40 patients a day, said Kalyniuk. “You have to make sure you can implement this in a way that fits in with their office staff and their workflow so that using electronic health records allows them to be able to accomplish the same amount of work in the same amount of time.”

There are currently 17,000 providers using the old system, said Stevenson-Roy. The province aims to be able to offer every Albertan an e-health record within two years.

“I don’t think we’ll have every health-care provider (on the system),” said Stevenson-Roy. “There are always those that are nearing retirement or they’re not practicing full time . . . but we’ll have the majority of them up by 2008.”

IBM’s contract with the government is for two years, but may be extended as needs dictate, said Kalyniuk. Big Blue has worked with Alberta on various health-care projects since 2000.

The initial rollout may be conducted in a limited fashion, said Stevenson-Roy. But the aim is to make 85 per cent of all of the lab test results in the province available online by September. Another goal is to make the notes that accompany diagnostic images available online, then the digital images themselves later this year.

Eventually Alberta aims to synch the system with isolated medical systems that are common in doctors’ offices. Physicians maintain their own paper charts and adapt them to individual electronic systems, said Stevenson-Roy. While it will be some time before paper records are phased out entirely, the province wants to be able to link the limited records-keeping technology that exists in individual clinics to the broader provincial system, allowing doctors a single view of their patient data.

Sixty per cent of physicians are using siloed technology in their clinics to maintain patient charts. “The goal beyond 2008 is, how we do some system to system integration to connect those up?” she said.

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