Ontario Hospital eHealth Council urges unique IDs

The Ontario Hospital eHealth Council says it will spend the next year working toward a unique patient identification system across the province, improving the communication among hospitals and developing a way of assessing the state of IT in local health-care centres.

Set up three years ago

to advise the Ontario government on the use of IT in the health-care system, the council recently received renewed funding of just under $1 million from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The Ontario Hospital Association also supports it.

“”They’re listening, which we really appreciate,”” said Tom Closson, chair of the council and president and chief executive of the University Health Network,

Right now, Closson said, every health-care agency has its own unique patient identifier. “”I don’t know how many hospitals you’ve been in, but I bet you probably have a plastic card for each one,”” he said. Much of the information that one hospital gathers about a patient is not readily available to another hospital if the same patient is admitted there.

Among other things, that means that when a patient is admitted to an emergency department, information about the drugs that person is taking is not on hand. “”The emergency department physician has to guess,”” Closson said.

Dr. Gunther Eysenbach, senior scientist at the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation at the University of Toronto, said unique patient identification systems can avoid problems with drug interactions and with duplication of procedures. “”You know that X-rays have already been taken and they’re present in another hospital,”” he said.

Closson said creating a unique patient identifier for Ontario should be relatively quick, because it can be built on the Ontario Health Insurance Program (OHIP) system, which already provides a unique identifier for everyone except people who are not eligible for OHIP coverage.

He noted that British Columbia already has a system that gives every hospital and pharmacist access to information about the prescription drugs every patient in the province is taking.

The Hospital eHealth Council also wants to see improved electronic communication among hospitals and other parts of the health-care system. This would go hand in hand with a unique patient identifier, Closson said, but would also include a directory of e-mail addresses of hospitals, family physicians and so forth, and a secure system for exchanging information.

“”If I want to send information from my hospital to a family physician or to another hospital,”” he said, “”there’s no yellow pages or white pages that I can go to to find out what their e-mail address is.”” There is also no secure channel for sending the data.

On the advice of the Hospital eHealth Council, he added, the provincial government is planning to pilot such a secure communications system soon.

The council also plans to conduct a survey within six months to gather data on how far advanced Ontario’s hospitals are in their use of information technology. The level of sophistication varies widely across the province, Closson said, and gaining a better understanding of which hospitals are more advanced in certain areas would make it possible to use them as models for the rest of the province.

Eysenbach said Canada is a leader in some areas of e-health, such as telemedicine, where the country’s geography and the need to provide health care in remote areas have naturally led to innovation.

He said it is also easier for Canada to establish standards and promote interoperability of information technology across its health-care system than it is for countries such as United States. “”In Canada, with more centrally administered health care, we have an opportunity to be a leader.””

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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