Quebec teams with Infoway to begin e-health projects

The Canadian agency responsible for e-health records is contributing $1.8 million towards four new health-care IT initiatives in Quebec, including the development of a secure system to share health data.

Canada Health Infoway’s

(CHI) investment supports the computerization of Quebec’s recently restructured health and social services network. The not-for-profit corporation, which is comprised of federal, provincial and municipal deputy health ministers, will have $260 million slated for approximately 100 projects in every province and territory by the end of this month.

The Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services is also financially backing these initiatives, which were announced Tuesday. Ministry spokespeople were not available for comment at press time.

The province is currently in the detailed planning stage of the project and hopes to implement something later this year, according to Louise Beauchesne, Quebec alliance executive, Canada Health Infoway. For this project, Quebec will create an interoperable electronic health care record (IEHR) system, which will operate at the regional level and connect into the source system at the hospital level.

Another project is a client registry to provide a unique identifier for all insured persons in the province, said Beauchesne. It will house patient information such as name, date of birth, Medicare card number, etc.

The third initiative is a provider registry or “yellow pages” of health-care providers, including doctors and nurses that handle clinical data. This includes information such as name, address and practice licenses of health-care professionals.

The fourth project is a drug information system that allows health-care providers to view a profile of a patient’s medication history, helping to prevent harmful drug interactions. Beauchesne said this is one of the key benefits of this system because it reduces medical errors, which can be caused by something as simple as doctors’ poor handwriting, for example.

“There are a high percentage of patients that are admitted through emergency that have drug interaction problems,” she said. “Having information and having access to a profile, you can try to prevent those drug interactions at the clinical level.”

“(The system) will automatically will warn you if something is going on such as an incorrect dosage.”

All three of these projects are in the pre-planning stage. Beauchesne expects the drug information system to go into the detailed planning stage this quarter and the registries next quarter. In that stage, Infoway will invest in the design of a preliminary architecture to determine how different system components will work together, potential benefits and cost estimates. Vendors will be selected through a request for proposal (RFP) process at the beginning of the implementation phase, said Beauchesne.

With the addition of these initiatives, Infoway will have around 100 projects in every Canadian province and territory. Quebec, which became an Infoway member in January 2004, expects to be active in almost all of Infoway’s programs by 2006 year-end.

Beauchesne cited political and economic setbacks that prevented Quebec from joining the organization earlier.

“It took a little time for Quebec to join Infoway because of political reasons but in the last year we’ve been doing a big, big job,” she said. “Obviously (Quebec) is not as rich as Alberta so it’s like different obstacles to get there.”

Other provinces see partnerships with Infoway as critical to the developmentof their e-health services. Speaking at an event in Toronto last week, for example, CIO of Ontario Human Services I&IT cluster Lorelle Taylor said Ontario’s size means it will play a big role in helping Infoway reach its goal of a national electronic health record by 2009. Like Quebec, however, many of its projects are designed to facilitate more basic information-sharing between and within hospitals.

“It’s the hand-offs where we see the problems creeping up,” she said, giving the example of information on a patient in an acute care facility that goes missing once he or she has been transferred to a continuing care centre. “There’s a lot of information that doesn’t travel with the patient.”

As for Infoway’s target to have EHRs spanning half of the country by 2009, Beauchesne said it’s difficult to determine if that will happen in Quebec.

“The treasury board is going to need to put a lot of resources towards that goal,” she said. “This government in Quebec seems to be in to the informatics and upgrading the service level but it’s a big task.”

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