When describing the Alliance for Healthier Communities, the warm embrace of a patchwork quilt comes to mind. As unique and diverse as the communities they serve, the Alliance is comprised of over 90 community-governed comprehensive primary healthcare organizations working collectively towards a common vision to realize the best possible health and wellbeing for everyone in Ontario.
Formed in 1982 with only six Community Health Centres, the Alliance network has grown to over 110 members strong including Aboriginal Health Access Centres and Indigenous Inter-Professional Primary Care Teams, Community Health Centres, Community-governed Family Health Teams and Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinics.
Disparate record-keeping systems inhibited “connectedness”.
As the Alliance grew, its service offerings evolved to address the complex needs of their distinct clients whether they’re indigenous, Francophone, LGBTQ, the elderly, or people struggling with addiction. Members moved into remote underserviced areas, going where the need was greatest: some working from bricks and mortar buildings – others conducting street outreach. For a sector that values collaboration and building communities of practice, maintaining their “connectedness” proved to be more challenging as time went on.
At the core of the problem was the fact that each organization had its own system for record-keeping. Some were on different EMR solutions; others were maintaining client charts in paper files. Reporting to government agencies was fragmented, while communicating and sharing clinical data between some centres was virtually impossible.
Four-year journey to digitally unite Alliance members.
In April 2017, the Alliance and TELUS Health embarked on what became a four-year journey to digitally unite the members with one EMR platform.
The South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC) was the first site, laying the groundwork. Kathleen Foley, the Centre’s Manager of Quality Improvement and Evaluation, knew that being the beta site would present some tremendous challenges, and she was right. “The complexity of our clients and mandated reporting requirements placed design demands on the system that is different from what TELUS Health was accustomed to,” she said. “They worked hard to understand CHCs, the work we do and how we do it.” 1
After more than 7,000 work hours, there were important lessons learned, processes and procedures developed, and workflows documented, all of which served as the playbook for Alliance members to follow. By the end of 2020, 96 Alliance members had successfully adopted PS Suite EMR.
In February, 2021, PS Suite EMR from TELUS Health received 100 percent approval from all members – paving the way for the final sprint. “It’s a big accomplishment, and worth noting that TELUS Health has passed all RFP requirements with our members, including a full commitment to being bilingual,” says Alliance CIO, Rodney Burns.
Digital tools for equitable, culturally appropriate care delivery.
The Alliance’s single robust EMR platform has components designed specifically for the group’s distinctive care delivery model. “We go beyond the traditional medical model,” says Burns. “We have customized, standardized forms and templates that fit into our workflow and capture services like indigenous healing activities and social prescribing. We are also looking at ways to incorporate the needs of the 2SLGBTQ+ community.”
PS Suite EMR enables easy, streamlined sharing across the Alliance ecosystem and links the group to government agencies to help them meet their accountability requirements. “Our entire organization can now capture data that is probably the highest quality available,” says Marc Gordon, the Information Management Program Lead for the Alliance. “Additionally, the inter-connectivity to provincial agencies and digital health assets allows us to tell our story, which can be used to influence policy and improve the client healthcare journey.”
Other EMR-integrated services are quickly winning favour with users. The EMR Mobile app enables street outreach teams to securely reference client records from their tablets or smartphones. MedDialog enables encrypted communications and information sharing between healthcare professionals enhancing continuity of care. With PrescribeITⓇ, clinicians can send e-prescriptions directly to pharmacies and easily process renewal requests right from their EMR.
When COVID-19 hit, Alliance members found EMR Virtual Visit to be “a slam-dunk”. “There’s no need to log in. We can use it right from our EMRs,” says Burns. And because Alliance staff members don’t submit claims to OHIP, they didn’t need to wait for billing codes. “We started using it right away.”
Fueling the movement to advancing healthcare equity.
“These digital health solutions are furthering the objectives of Alliance members to serve the most vulnerable people in Ontario,” adds Burns. “We’ve got a partnership with TELUS Health that’s going to help us move along that path and on to the next chapter.”