Health-care organizations partner for patient records

A partnership between Canada Health Infoway and the Canadian Institute for Health Information to develop healthcare oriented standards is being called an important step forward by health-care IT vendors.

Canada Health Infoway Inc.

(Infoway) and the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) have signed a memorandum of understanding formalizing what is already an established working relationship, said Canada Health Infoway CTO Denis Giokas. CIHI has worked on the development of standards for a number of years, he said, and Infoway has been more than happy to leverage the organization’s expertiese in its own efforts to develop national standards. Infoway has also invested in some of the standards work being carried out by CIHI.

Infoway is a federal government corporation with a goal of accelerating the development of interoperable electronic health information systems. CIHI is an independent pan-Canadian, not-for-profit organization whose mission is the improvement of the healthcare system through providing quality health information. The two are partnering to develop standards required in support of electronic health record data definitions and standards.

Giokas said the teams will work together on development of health-care oriented IT standards. These include messaging standards such as HL7 that allow for interoperability between applications. Work will also be done on other standards such as vocabulary and coding standards.

The Chair of the Canadian Healthcare Information Technology Trade Association(CHITTA), Dave Wattling, said the vendor community was thrilled to hear this announcement and sees it as an important step forward.

Electronic health record initiatives have been popping up in a number of Canadian provinces but there has been little significant work done on regulating software requirements and standards. This has meant that solutions have had to be customized for each province, he said, driving the cost of development up and restricting access to the marketplace for a lot of vendors.

“”Alternately we’ve seen a lot of regional vendors emerge where they sell their product to one province or two provinces but have never had the ability to go national because of the cost of customizing for each individual province,”” Wattling said.

He said the industry sees standards as the cornerstone of electronic health care systems. Not only do they provide consistency, but also drive thinking around how to architect systems so that they can exchange information both within regions and provinces and also across the country.

“”As far as the industry’s view of this, it’s a great move,”” he said.

There is still a lot of work to be done before standards are adopted, Giokas said. A project begun as part of Infoway’s first wave of investments, in December 2002 is investigating what he calls the gap between what is needed and what is currently available. Part of that project will be looking at how much of an obstacle lack of national standards is to the development of the electronic health record.

“”We know there is a hurdle, we just don’t know how high it is yet. That’s why we spun off (the) project to really quantify that, “”Giokas said. “”And then more importantly what is our plan and approach to closing that gap, over obviously many years.””

He said the quantifying work should be completed by late summer of 2003. Once completed the project will include recommendations on the standards development time frame as well.

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