The launch of Telus Health Space, within a year, will enable Canadians to build their own health records, gain visibility into the contents of their file, and control what information they share with their health providers.
At the core of the offering is Microsoft’s HealthVault — an online portal for personal medical records.
Telus Corp., which has secured the first exclusive licence for HealthVault outside of the U.S., will use it to host personalized electronic health records (EHR) for Canadians under the name Telus Health Space, according to the Calgary-based telecommunications company.
Canadians using the Telus-hosted service would gain visibility into what’s on their file, and control over what information they share with their selected health providers.
One goal of the offering, is to bring the user into the management of health care, according to François Côté, president of health solutions at Telus.
He said Canadians would be able to log into the portal – hosted at either telushealthspace.ca or .com – and create their own profile, or a health care provider could create an account on their behalf. Telus will reach out to governments, health regions, hospitals, insurers and employers to help register users of the service, said Côté.
“We expect governments will want to be able to offer it to citizens to help them become accountable, as part of the effort to re-engineer the overall health care system.”
HealthVault has several tools to give users a greater role in their own care, according to Microsoft.
Users can store health records they get from providers, upload data from health devices such as a pedometer, share health information with select health providers, access a range of wellness products, and find relevant health information with a search tool.
It serves as a central location where users can “build health histories” and lets them “connect with a host of relevant applications that speak the same language,” according to Microsoft Canada president Phil Sorgen.
Canada’s federal government has funnelled $1.6 billion to date towards the development of an EHR system through the Canada Health Infoway organization. There have been a total of 276 projects approved for funding across Canada thus far, including 16 for interoperable EHR systems that would allow linking of health information at clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, and other points of health care.
The focus for Infoway has been to make it easier for health care providers to access information, says Trevor Hodge, senior vice-president of investment strategies and alliances at Infoway. But Canadians could give consent to have that information shared with Telus.
“In the U.S., HealthVault is deployed as a patient portal. You sign on as a patient and authenticate yourself to gain access to your health records, then you can copy the information over to your personal records,” Hodge says. “We anticipate that will be the same system here as well.”
Infoway’s goal is to see all of Canada ready for electronic health records by 2016. So far Alberta and P.E.I. are the most advanced provinces, Hodge says. Canada’s health care system contains more than 700 hospitals, 400,000 general practicitioners and 1,600 long-term care facilities.
With Telus launching their service within a year, it is possible that some Canadians will be able to use it to extract information from their health care providers while others will not. But Canadians can also manually input their own data, instead of requesting it from a health care provider.
“Our current focus is on allowing health care providers to access the data,” Hodge says. “The next evolution of this is for Canadians to be able to access and view their own health record.”
There are about 10 chronic conditions Canadians suffer that account for 80 per cent of health care expenses, Côté says.
The Telus executive has been managing his own mother’s diabetes using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Chronic disease management will be a focus area of the Telus portal, so as to make things easier for patients. For example, diabetics could track their blood sugar levels and manage their diets.
Atlantic Health Sciences Corp. has been using a similar method for its diabetic patients. Using Web portal software MyCareAnyware from AnyWareGroup to help patients keep a daily record of their diet and blood sugars. If the blood sugars are too irregular over a sustained period of time, a physician is alerted to the situation.
The portal also provides educational materials to diabetics in the form of readings and videoconferencing for patient meetings.
A national system of personal health records will likely have a place in Canada’s overall strategy on electronic health records, according Ed Brown, CEO of Ontario Telemedicine Network.
OTN is an independent non-profit organzation funded by the Ontario government that seeks to extend and enhance access Ontarians access to health care providers and eliminate barriers to care.
“Providing consumers with direct access to their own personal health data and the ability to share it with their providers is a fundamental building block of the healthcare reform we need,” Brown says.
Storing a huge amount of personal health information can stir privacy concerns. To help assuage those fears, Telus plans to store all the data in Canada.
Telus would be foolhardy to create anything less than the strictest privacy and security measures for the system, says Ann Cavoukian, Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.
“Take it from me, rest assured there will be extremely strong privacy and security measures associated with this,” she says. “Anything that flows through Telus Health Space to patients would be required to follow the requirements of the act relating to those providers.”
The Personal Health Information Protection Act is the legislation that’s protected private health information in Ontario since 2004.
Telus employs both a privacy officer and a security officer and will make all efforts to comply with the letter of the law, Côté says.
A 2007 survey from Infoway shows that 88 per cent of Canadians support the idea of electronic heatlh records.