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Physician IT

British Columbia expands PharmaNet

VICTORIA – More than 500 physicians across British Columbia have embraced the new opportunity to use the Province’s PharmaNet system in their medical practices, since the system was expanded in December 2005 to reach physician practices, announced Health Minister George Abbott (pictured).

“This government’s expansion of PharmaNet access to medical practices will further improve patient care and safety by making medication histories available to authorized physicians in medical practices as well as the existing access in hospital emergency departments,” said Abbott. “Expansion of PharmaNet service is an example of how B.C. is leading the country in electronic health initiatives that benefit patients.”

PharmaNet is the secure computer network that links all community pharmacies in B.C., as well as many hospital pharmacies, to a central database.

In 2005, PharmaNet captured 41 million prescriptions at community pharmacies across the province, and generated millions of warning messages about potential medication management issues.

PharmaNet detects possible drug-to-drug interactions, ingredient duplication in therapies, fill-too-soon or fill-too-late warnings – a total of seven individual checks on each prescription.

These warnings are classified as to severity, and 12 percent of them are flagged as “most significant,” helping professionals avoid serious medication errors.

By making this information available in physicians’ offices, many potential problems can be detected by the doctor when prescribing, instead of the patient having the problem caught at the pharmacy, and having to experience delays or even repeat visits to the physician.

Changes were made to the existing regulations so that doctors can use PharmaNet to help ensure healthcare decisions are made based on the best patient information available.

Province-wide Medical Practice Access to PharmaNet (MPAP) has been available since December 2005 and has seen quick adoption with over 500 physicians already registered.

Expansion of PharmaNet access to community medical practitioners – family doctors and specialists – throughout the province is supported by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia.

“In the physician’s office, PharmaNet allows the physician to immediately verify medication history rather than relying on the patient’s memory,” said Dr Heidi Oetter, deputy registrar for the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Not only can PharmaNet improve quality of care, with doctors being able to make more informed drug treatment decisions, but examining a patient’s PharmaNet medication history can reduce medication errors, duplications and avoid a dangerous combination of different medications.”

Strict privacy measures remain in place for PharmaNet, with all accesses to patients’ information logged, and all authorized users individually identified. PharmaNet will continue to comply with the Province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Additional steps were taken to ensure privacy and legal considerations are addressed in the data access agreements with physicians and the registration process.

“Projects like PharmaNet actually improve patient privacy protection compared to paper records,” added Abbott. “There are tight restrictions around accessing the information and every time that someone accesses the information, they leave an electronic footprint.”

PharmaNet data expansion is a preliminary step in the ministry’s eHealth strategy. This comprehensive set of initiatives and investments will include significant advancements in PharmaNet’s capabilities, in supporting pharmacists, physicians in community settings as well as hospitals and eventually enabling citizens to access to their own health records.

The Province recently announced a $150-million investment for eHealth initiatives in British Columbia. Canada Health Infoway – an independent, not-for-profit organization – has conditionally agreed to allocate up to approximately $120 million for eHealth initiatives in B.C. between 2005/06 and 2008/09.

The Ministry of Health is investing an additional $30 million over the same period to support the development of eHealth initiatives that will help health professionals deliver better, faster and safer patient care.