Edmonton’s Capital Health plans e-records upgrade, scheduling service

A plan to build what’s touted as Canada’s largest electronic medical record system and a patient scheduling service will provide one-stop access to ambulatory care for several thousand physicians and patients.

Edmonton’s Capital Health, which is affiliated with the University of Alberta and one of the country’s largest health regions, provides integrated health services to one million residents in Edmonton and the surrounding area.

Capital Health will begin work later this year and complete both projects, valued at $20 million, in 2007.

The health region had faced several challenges up until now.

“The need to manage chronic patients requires, basically, common information to be easily shared between clinicians, be it physicians in the community and physicians who provide specialty services within the acute care and hospital environment,” said Donna Strating, CIO and vice-president of information systems and equipment at Capital Health. 

“The ability to do good alerts and the ability to do good medical management…requires the information to be patient-centred,” Strating said.

“And you can’t do that when you have two physicians in two different offices using two different technology platforms that don’t in fact have any ability to share information.”

Capital Health already has an electronic health records system, but it allows clinicians to view only patient records pulled from sources across the province so they can make better medical decisions, she said.

This tool has moved to the provincial government’s domain and is now called Alberta netCare.

But netCare has shortcomings — such as not detailing the specific physician care given to patients — which is why Capital Health turned to Epic Systems of Madison, Wisc. to upgrade its patient record and scheduling systems.

The new electronic medical records system will offer better information-sharing among Capital Health facilities, primary care networks and outpatient clinics, Strating said.

A patient scheduling system will allow referring physicians, clinicians and patients to locate and book the first available appointment in the region, which aims ultimately to improve wait times.

A potential 3,500 individual providers can conceivably use the new system, but Capital Health said it does not anticipate this volume of users. It does, however, expect to put 1,500 Capital Health physicians and clinicians into the system.

Strating said Epic Systems will build a patient portal allowing “selective results” to be released, such as cholesterol levels and prescribed medication.

Based on U.S. case studies, Capital Health expects patient uptake of the portal to be slow but will be satisfied if 15,000 to 20,000 users sign up in one or two years, she added.

The system will be deployed through Citrix on a thin client, which will offer good response times, and have a secure connection, said Strating. It will also feature added security via passwords. Capital Health shied away from a Web-based system because of security concerns, Strating said.

The patient portal, however, will be accessible through a Web browser but users will need security access.

This will be the largest, most comprehensive installation in Canada for Epic Systems. The company has been rated highly for its software products and clinical information system implementations with large-sized, academic health-care organizations.

“We like to think we’re different from competitors in a number of ways,” said Jay Rath of Epic Systems’ marketing department. “One is that we’re private. We believe that helps us focus on doing a good job for the clients rather than the concerns of Wall Street.

“But I think a lot of it boils down to our software. We have one integrated suite of applications so that it’s not a bunch of different systems put together. We’ll sell all different applications, but the main benefit is we have everything.”

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