National registry to track electronic health record projects

A move to document health information systems in use across the country will help hospitals taking their first steps into electronic records-keeping, according to one healthcare professional.

Canada Health Infoway, an independent

non-for-profit corporation whose board comprises federal and provincial deputy health ministers, is creating a registry of electronic health record solutions already in existance and those planned for the next 18 months.

“”I’m sure, if a lot of other health record or even MIS departments throughout other hospitals knew of this database it would really help to provide some insight as to what vendor they’re using and how far along they are with the conversion,”” said Janice Lang, manager of health records at Queensway-Carleton Hospital in Ottawa.

The hospital has already made the commitment to move its paper-based patient files to an electronic directory, but it won’t begin in earnest until September.

“”There’s mostly U.S. systems being used across southwestern Ontario and up here in eastern Ontario, because of the lack of Canadian companies that we know of that can provide (these systems),”” continued Lang. “”If there was a site that we would be able to visit, that would be great. That would definitely benefit a lot of people.””

Privacy remains a primary concern for electronic records-keeping in the healthcare industry, according to analyst Joe Greene, based IDC Canada Ltd.‘s Ottawa office. As of Jan. 1 of this year, health records are covered by the federal government’s far-reaching privacy legislation, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

“”They’ve got to be very, very careful about what they do with that kind of information,”” said Greene. “”Basically, they’re not allowed to just start disclosing information about people without those people being informed and they have to seek permission from those individuals too.””

To avoid any problems down the road, Queensway-Carleton is building a privacy policy into its database from the get-go, said Lang. For example, data fields must be modifiable so they can be turned on and off if a patient requests that certain information not be recorded — particularly if patient records are used outside the hospital.

“”Patient information is confidential. We wouldn’t be letting anybody be knowing the patients’ names anyway. As far as confidentiality is concerned, that would be the top priority,”” said Lang.

Hospitals must be extremely cautious when making the move to electronics records, said Karanne Lambton, a board chair with the Canadian Health Record Association based in Toronto. Lambton is also director of information management for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. Even with the best intentions, patient information can leak out.

“”No matter how thorough you think you are when you cleanse identifying information out of a database, there is always a way to refine your extract of data down to a point where there is potential for identifying individuals within a community,”” she explained. “”Anything that’s personally identifiable in a database is putting your privacy at risk.””

Spokespeople for Canada Health Infoway were not available for comment at press time.

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