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Electronic health records

Wireless and PHRs set to become huge issues, report says

TORONTO – Despite years of trying, hospitals and health regions across Canada are still struggling to connect their computer systems so that clinical applications will talk to one another – a state of electronic nirvana called interoperability.

A new study, based on extensive questionnaires completed by 52 CIOs and IT directors at hospitals and health regions across Canada, found that a third (33%) of hospitals have difficulty connecting clinical applications within their own facilities. What’s more, about a third are having problems connecting to clinical applications at other hospital organizations.

According to the findings of the survey, “The Communications Gap: Planning interoperable systems for Canadian hospitals in 2011,” healthcare managers see the solution in the use of standards. These standards include HL7 v2 and v3, DICOM, SNOMED, LOINC and IHE.

However, many of the standards are currently not well used. The study provides data on the extent to which various standards are now used and on the plans to implement them over the next two years.

“The Communications Gap” points out that non-technology issues, especially concerns about privacy and governance issues, can take large amounts of time, effort and funding for hospitals that are seeking to connect with outside organizations.

The report also examined areas that will complicate efforts to achieve interoperability in the future. They include the rise of wireless devices such as tablet computers and smartphones. Indeed, the benefits of wireless access to electronic records are so impressive that 20 percent of hospitals expect to use a wireless system as their primary enterprise network within the next five years.

The study, nevertheless, looks at the problems that hospitals have experienced with wireless systems and suggests solutions for surmounting these issues.

“The Communications Gap” offers insights into the future of Personal Health Records – another form of electronic records that will tie into hospital systems. Very few hospitals currently offer a PHR to their patients, but an overwhelming majority of hospitals expect to be hosting such systems within five years.

Overall, the 52-page report, with 46 charts and tables, includes information and analysis about:

• the state of clinical interoperability in hospitals and with outside hospital organizations;

• clinical interoperability among hospitals, long-term care centres and physician practices;

• barriers to interoperability and connectivity;

• levels of usage of various standards in hospitals, and forecasted usage;

• wireless use in hospitals today and plans for the next two years;

• views of CIOs and IT directors on whether provincial eHealth programs are useful - or not;

• state of innovation in Canadian hospitals;

• IT investment plans.

“The Communications Gap: Planning interoperable systems for Canadian hospitals in 2011,” is available from Canadian Healthcare Technology at a cost of $495 + HST for a printed edition or $1,995 for a shareable, electronic edition. To order, e-mail or phone 905-709-2330.

Posted January 13, 2011