Canada’s physicians, nurses and pharmacists are among the best in the world. But even the best cannot achieve solid outcomes if the tools and systems to support patient care are substandard.
Our healthcare industry is keeping the fax machine alive. A 2016 TELUS Health survey of 150 clinicians revealed that phone (85%) and fax (65%) are the primary means of communication between professionals. Many clinics still operate with paper-based patient files. Meanwhile, patients across the country are still unable to access their own medical records. According to the calendar, it is 2019. Are we in a time warp?
The foundation of our healthcare system is crumbling, and a main cause of its deterioration is a failure to communicate across the care continuum, including with patients. The need for an agile, integrated national health system that enables secure provider-to-provider communication and engages the patient as a partner in the care process has never been greater.
Disjointed, unreliable communication puts patient care at risk
In a Health Canada survey of Canadian healthcare facilities, colleges and associations, 25% cited communication as a leading challenge, along with documentation errors as issues impacting patient safety or healthcare errors.
Considering the staggering amount of communication required among physicians and other healthcare professionals, it is no surprise that 21% of requests for consultation sent from a paper- or faxed-based environment receive no response from specialists.
The survey also revealed that nearly 30% of family physicians and close to 40% of specialists correspond with colleagues through email – not the most efficient means of communication between multiple providers, and certainly not the most secure. Furthermore, email is not connected to patient records in paper-based systems. Unless message threads are pasted into charts, such communications may be forgotten.
Healthcare transformation moving at a glacial pace
There is talk of a new standard of care in Canada, but improvements are slow to actualize.
Consider that in Alberta, integrated care has been the stated policy for healthcare since the 1990s. Still, the Auditor General’s May 2017 report Better Healthcare for Albertans notes a lack of integration of care providers’ services among the top barriers impeding Alberta’s ability to reach its full healthcare potential. It also cited a lack of “complete, rapid access to medical records by everyone in the system—including the patient—when and where it is needed” as another key barrier.
Alberta is not alone. Canadian healthcare professionals polled for the 2017 Future Health Index study identified access to secure information-sharing platforms between practitioners as having the most potential for positive impact on Canadians taking care of their health.
Connecting the dots for collaborative healthcare
The demand for digital healthcare has never been greater – or the possibilities more exciting. New innovations and digital technologies present opportunities to bridge the gap in Canada’s disconnected system.
Today, more than 85% of primary care physicians in Canada use electronic medical record (EMR) solutions to maintain patient files, communicate with providers in a patient’s cycle of care, electronically prescribe and order tests, and manage referrals. Message threads can be maintained indefinitely, and elements of a patient’s chart can be attached to secure communications for unprecedented record portability.
Apps such as EMR Mobile extend the clinic’s EMR and offer flexibility by allowing physicians to remotely access patient files as well as their appointment schedule on their smartphone. Physicians can perform administrative and clinical tasks such as reviewing and processing patient lab results, and uploading photos directly to the patient chart to send to colleagues for consultation, without having to be in the office.
Innovations like these will change the face of care collaboration among providers, while new tools in virtual care will enable more effective communication with patients – especially those living in remote areas or without a family physician, and encourage them to take a more active role in managing their own health.
Canada’s health system performance ranks number 10 of the 11 countries studied in a 2014 Commonwealth Fund report, and is in the bottom two in terms of safety, timeliness of care and system efficiency.
This status can be dramatically improved with better patient and provider-to-provider communications. In doing so, we can begin to crack the code on achieving a higher standard of care that is safer, more accessible and better attuned to patient needs.