Toronto firm offers online health record access for patients, doctors

A young company named Aristex Health Solutions announced Thursday the launch of Global Lifeguard, a Web-based application that will allow patients and physicians alike access to their medical records online.

The program is a proprietary, Web-based, content management system application, according to Aristex’s vice-president of product management, Jeff Johnston. Started only a year ago, Aristex does systems, risk management and privacy consulting in the health care industry, but Global Lifeguard is its flagship product. The company got the inspiration for the program in the wake of the Canadian health care system reports from the Kirby and Romanow committees in 2002. “We saw the opportunity to create something so that Canadians are actively engaged in managing their own health care – we want to give Canadians control of their health management,” said Johnston.

The program, however, has nothing to do with the government-funded group Canada Health Infoway, whose goal is to establish a pan-Canadian electronic health record by 2009, although, said Johnston, Global Lifeguard is standards-based and would be compatible with a HL7 health record set-up.

Michael Martineau, director of the Branham Group, a market research and strategic consulting firm for IT vendors, said that this type of technology is coming at just the right time. “Consumer e-health is one of the big growth areas over the next few years,” said Martineau. “When it comes to health care, baby boomers are becoming more demanding and acting more like consumers.” He said that similar programs have been cropping up in the U.S., where they’re “used to” paying for health care, and that Canadians are coming around to the idea of paying that extra for health care. That has resulted in several other personal health record management systems pilots in this country.

The program – which is in pilot mode now in several southern Ontario clinics, and is scheduled for a limited rollout in March – offers both patient record storage and the capability to input other types of health information, such as blood sugar levels or the person’s diet, so it can be tracked or printed off for their physician.

There are two ways of setting up a Global Lifeguard account. The person can sign up through their doctor, who will input their information into the program, either manually into a form, or by scanning the pages of the chart and then uploading them into the program. The information is stored in Aristex’s data centre in individual patient accounts. The other way is by self-registering over the Internet, which only allows the patient to either scan in their medical information (copies of their chart or labs, for instance), or log the contents of a doctor’s visit in by hand. If they want their actual charts or doctor’s involvement, they must authorize their physician to access their records. “(For physicians) to register with us, we need to validate their credentials with their provincial licensing body and conduct a site visit,” Johnston said.

Once approved for the system, Johnston said, there are many benefits for physicians, whose involvement with the program is what makes it unique among personal health record management programs. Referrals would be made a breeze, as they could print out Global Lifeguard records for faxing, or could simply transfer the information to the Global Lifeguard-enabled specialist, who wouldn’t then make the mistake of ordering the same tests. Patients who moved could easily access their records, and doctors could enjoy the security of having a second copy of their patient’s records in a data centre somewhere.

Yet in the wake of such data breaches as the Winners/Home Sense debacle, said Martineau, information security needs to be a priority. “If you don’t get it right, you could erode confidence and throw everything back years,” he said. To address that issue, Aristex has enlisted the services of Entrust, which has provided a two-factor authentication process for those logging into the system, along with anti-phishing mechanisms. “We’ve built our own data centre, so we’re not using shared data centre space,” according to Johnston. “Plus, we have physical security features like biometric access, video surveillance, and 24-security security.”

Martineau is not confident that physicians will adopt Global Lifeguard with any speed. While they do get to use it for free (Aristex charges patients a $10 subscription fee per month), he thinks that adoption of the program among doctors will be slow, as they may view Global Lifeguard with some suspicion – or as a nuisance. “They’ll be asking themselves, do they have time to be filling out even more forms? To deal with more questions they’ll have to answer? People are already bringing in stacks of pages printed from the Internet, so they might be cautious in adopting it.”

But he also acknowledges that the doctors, falling in line with DIYadvocates banks and airlines, could very well think, “How can we get our users to think for themselves?” and “What can we get the patient to start doing for us?”

“There’s a shift in mindset to support that – baby boomers are booking travel online and banking online,” he said. “This will be good for the health care system, a real win in the long term – the more actively involved they are, the better it is.”

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