There is so much information and misinformation out there about Electronic Health Records (EHRs) in Canada. Canada has been trying for many years to go paperless with medical records and give patients access to their important health information. We combed every good source we could find to gather every stat and fact you need to know about EHRs so that you can be the judge on our country’s progress.
What are Electronic Health Records?
The term “electronic health records” (EHRs) in Canada usually means efforts to establish a universal digital record of all patient information. “Electronic medical records” (EMRs) are usually different and mean the records that a doctor keeps in the operation of their office practice.
When you meet with your doctor, he or she probably takes notes either on paper or on a computer. Up until recently, most doctors’ offices had piles of paper patient records in folders corresponding to each patient. In the last several years, most doctors’ offices in Canada have moved toward adapting their records to digital versions housed in computers instead of filing cabinets.
As doctors’ offices have moved toward digital records for themselves, provincial and federal governments have made strides to turn these digital records into regional or national systems where each patient can access their records whenever they want. As we’ll see, this hasn’t been an entirely smooth process, but there is progress being made.
What Progress is Being Made Toward Electronic Health Records (EHRs) in Canada?
Canada Health Infoway has received about $2.5 billion in federal funding to support the adoption of EHRs. There is forward progress being made toward making personal health information accessible in Canada:
- In 2019, 17% of Canadians said they accessed their medical records electronically; in 2018 it was only 15%
- 20% said they had ever accessed EHRs in 2019, vs. 17% in 2018
- 27% said they could currently access EHRs in 2019, vs. 22% in 2018
Lab results are what most Canadians can access online, followed by current prescriptions and medication history, then immunization history/records. Immunization history has had the most growth in accessibility over the last two years:
Despite wanting EHRs and a more digitized health system, most patients are still using old-fashioned means to obtain health care:
- Access to personal health information is the most desired digital health service for Canadians
- 96% of Canadians still get their prescriptions in-person from a medical professional
- 77% of prescription renewals are handwritten or printed
Ontario has had to overcome scandals and delays in its move toward EHRs. Here are some Ontario electronic health records stats:
- OpenNotes is a platform that allows patients to see their doctors’ notes over a secure portal – it has signed up more than 40 million patients across about 200 health systems, including Ontario
- eHealth Ontario was a platform that spent several years trying to implement electronic health records in Ontario but failed to get off the ground due to poor management
- Ontario, along with British Columbia, now uses My eHealth to give patients access to their laboratory results
- However, one of the main labs participating in My eHealth, LifeLabs, recently had a data breach affecting 15 million customers mainly in Ontario and BC
Alberta has advanced at a faster rate than most provinces toward EHRs in recent years. Here are some stats from Alberta as of June 2016:
- ~96% of the medications dispensed in pharmacies are added to EHRs
- ~97% of the pharmacies in Alberta are submitting their EHR data
- ~92% of the laboratory test reports are available in EHRs
- ~97% of all laboratory facilities are submitting data to EHRs
- ~96% of the diagnostic images and reports done in Alberta facilities are available in EHRs
- ~92% of diagnostic imaging facilities are providing data to provincial EHRs
- Over 51,000 medical professionals can access Alberta Netcare Portal
- ~7.2 million screens of data in 2.5 million patient electronic records are accessed monthly
Canada does still have a long way to go as we are trailing other countries in our adoption of EHRs. The U.S. has 41 million patients accessing their clinical notes online, and Sweden has all 21 regions set up with electronic patient records. Canada needs to keep pushing forward on EHRs to provide better quality health care to its citizens.
What are the Benefits of Electronic Health Records?
Studies have shown many benefits of EHRs. These studies say:
- EHRs have positive impact on psychosocial and experiential outcomes, patient-provider relationship, communication and trust, and healthcare resource utilization
- Since doctors started doing electronic medical records there has been a 65% decrease in identification time of patients on admission (from 130 to 46 hours)
- In diabetes care, practices with EHR provided better quality care
- EHRs may improve prevention by providing better access to test results, identifying missing patient information, and offering evidence-based preventive services
The Future of Electronic Health Records in Canada
Digital health care innovation has been fairly slow in Canada. But with the issues we’ve seen with implementing EHRs, maybe going slow and making sure we know what we’re doing isn’t a bad thing. The eHealth issues in Ontario and the data breach with LifeLabs have taught us that digitizing health care isn’t simple.
This is why it’s important to work with experts like Bay Area Records when working on digitizing your patients’ records.
Electronic health records are important because they give patients the transparency they need to be active participants in their own health. They also give doctors quick and complete access to patient records so they can make split-second decisions that can literally mean the difference between life and death.
Let’s hope all stakeholders can work together to make wide-scale EHRs a priority as we move into a new decade.