Pandemic delays P.E.I. launch of electronic medical records

·4 min read

Health Minister James Aylward says the province is "weeks" away from finalizing a contract to bring electronic medical records to P.E.I.

But Aylward acknowledges it will be another 16 months before the system is up and running across the Island, though the province had hoped to have a fully functioning operation by now.

Aylward blames the coronavirus pandemic for delays in getting electronic medical records, also known as EMRs, implemented in the province.

"There was somewhat of a delay due to COVID. The vendor that we're actually negotiating with right now, there were some issues with regards to having technicians travel because of travel restrictions," Aylward told reporters.

"We already have a team in place, an implementation team… we'll then start rolling out the EMR to collaborative practices first. We're going to put a call out as well, through the Medical Society of P.E.I., to ensure that the physicians that are out there are lining up to have it implemented."

'A basic expectation of all healthcare professionals'

Some Island doctors already have a standalone electronic medical record system.

PEI legislature
PEI legislature

This new system will be fully integrated so that family doctors, specialists, and doctors who work in hospitals will all have full access to a patient's medical record no matter what health care centre, walk-in clinic or hospital the patient uses to access services. That record will include a medical history, any pre-existing conditions, and a real-time, updated list of prescriptions the person already has.

Opposition health critic Trish Altass said she was disappointed to hear of delays in implementing the system, noting that it will hurt the Island's ability to recruit and retain new doctors.

"Having an EMR or a digital record system that will support patient care across services and over time is a basic expectation of all healthcare professionals and essential to their work," Altass said in the P.E.I. legislature on Friday.

"How do you expect to recruit and retain doctors to P.E.I. without a functioning, integrated electronic records medical system?"

Aylward said he agrees it is difficult to recruit doctors to come practise in a province without an electronic medical records system but he wants to take the time to ensure the rollout is done right.

'A way that's safe and secure'

"This has to be done right," Aylward said in an interview.

Ken Linton/CBC
Ken Linton/CBC

"We're talking about patients, we're talking about Islanders and we need to ensure it's rolled out in a way that's safe and secure and not only protects our patients but protects their health records as well."

What government considers the foundation of the electronic health record system was completed in 2011 — a clinical information system linking Island hospitals and allowing them to exchange information in real time.

The piece that's missing is the connection to the offices of primary care providers like family doctors and nurse practitioners.

The province says the rollout will start in Charlottetown and Summerside in late January 2021.

But the program will not be fully implemented until March 2022.

Not expecting all doctors to participate

In a statement to CBC News, the Medical Society of P.E.I. said it is working closely with the province on the rollout of electronic medical records.

"We are supporting the Department of Health and Wellness by helping to keep physicians informed on the project's status, and yes, eventually we will be helping to promote the availability of the solution to physicians who wish to adopt," the society said.

Aylward said the province has budgeted $7.5 million but the health minister said there will be additional costs as the project rolls out.

CBC
CBC

Aylward said he realizes not all doctors will sign up to take part in the program.

But he said for new doctors coming into the province, electronic medical records are critical because it is a tool they use every day as part of their residency.

"I know, personally, myself, there are some physicians that probably aren't going to take it up because they are closer to retirement age," said Aylward.

"It's not mandatory but it is highly anticipated and I know that once physicians start to see how excellent it works, they'll want to participate in it."

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