– By David Zitner
It is hard to believe that in 2015 most Nova Scotians are not able to communicate with their doctors by email or telephone or that you cannot have online access to your own health record.
Who would believe that health care, an industry that uses 50 per cent of government spending, remains backward in the use of information techniques and tools?
Imagine if banks used handwritten scrawls to record your deposits and withdrawals and that your accounts were not available on-line.
Of course, in the old-fashioned banking systems customers were handed a bank book and it was easy for them to know and correct the few instances where the $700 they deposited was recorded incorrectly as $100 or $200.
Most Canadians have immediate online access to financial services, but most Nova Scotians do not have timely access to their medical charts, or to the results of laboratory tests.
Consequently, it is more difficult for Nova Scotians to participate in their own care or to correct the problems that occur when laboratory tests are lost, ignored, or mistakenly treated as normal when there is a significant problem.
In 2001, the federal and provincial governments committed to the use of modern information technology. Governments aspired to a health system where every Canadian has an electronic health record and access to their own information.
Unfortunately, despite Provincial Governments and Canada Health Infoway advertising and spending billions, Nova Scotians today cannot access their own information and our provincial government cannot monitor health services to learn which activities are worthwhile, which harmful, and which merely wasteful of time and money.
Technology is not the problem. People who participate in modern North American health systems, for example Kaiser Permanente in California, are able to call their doctors by phone, or communicate via email, in addition to having face-to-face visits when necessary. Very few Nova Scotians have similar access.
The unacceptable delay in adoption of modern information tools is costly to patients. Patients with chronic disease, including diabetes, cannot conveniently access their laboratory results.
Health professionals who work in different locations and care for the same person do not have access to the complete health records. Prescriptions written by hand are more likely to be misinterpreted.
Doctors do not have automatic and routine access to decision support tools that prompt the doctor or pharmacist to make a correction when the wrong dose of a medicine is prescribed or dispensed or when the patient is allergic.
The number of resulting mistakes is small, but nevertheless unacceptable.
Health care quality is compromised when health systems use antiquated information techniques.
Patients are inconvenienced when they have to visit a doctor in person to get a test result and make sure that the doctor really reviewed and thought about the results.
Missing information is a serious barrier to citizen participation in health care and many health care problems would be solved if patients had timely electronic access to their own information.
Surely, it is not too much to ask that each of us has access to our own health information in ways that are straightforward and convenient.
David Zitner is a Professor, Post Retirement in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University and Health Policy Fellow with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. ([email protected])