eHealth provides electronic records

The government of Ontario has made progress in its campaign to convert the province’s health records from paper files to electronic files. The number of patients whose health records have been converted into an electronic format has increased from none in 2003 to roughly 5 million this year. Electronic medical records are expected to allow for more effective patient care and better co-ordination among different components of the healthcare system, saving money and increasing efficiency.

“It means quicker results, it means less time travelling, it means better care,” said Deb Matthews, the Ontario Minister of Health.

The provincial government provides a subsidy of $28,000 for each doctor to convert his or her patients’ medical records to an electronic system and currently approximately 5,500 doctors in Ontario are using electronic patient health records. Most of the electronic health records are accessible only to an individual’s particular doctor’s office or hospital, but some cities have connected the records of multiple doctors’ offices and hospitals together.

The ultimate goal of eHealth Ontario is to create a province-wide network for sharing of patient medical records from doctors’ offices, hospitals, long-term care facilities and other healthcare providers.

“One of the things we have to do is build the network of networks so that no matter where you are in the province you can access information from the hospitals that your patients are referred to. That is the work ahead of us,” said Greg Reed, CEO of eHealth Ontario, the provincial government agency responsible for overseeing the conversion to electronic health records.

eHealth Ontario was the focus of much criticism last year when it was revealed that the agency had spent over $1 billion on items such as expensive consultants and had not produced adequate results. Both the Minister of Health and the CEO of eHealth have since been replaced. David Caplan resigned and was replaced as Health Minister by Deb Matthews, while former eHealth CEO Sarah Kramer was replaced by Greg Reed.

Although critics, including the provincial opposition parties, have argued that Ontario is behind other provinces in creating electronic health records, Deb Matthews said, “We’ve got more physicians with electronic medical records than any other province in the country. We are now a leader when it comes to the adoption of it.”

The government’s objective is to have electronic records for everyone in Ontario by 2015.