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Physician IT

Newfoundland begins primary care IT project

By Neil Zeidenberg

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Primary Health Care Enhanced Information Technology Project is now up and running in all four of its test sites.

It’s a joint provincial EMR initiative of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Health and Community Services, the Centre for Health Information, and Eastern Health, in conjunction with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association.

The Newfoundland Drive Family Practice clinic in St. John’s, and the Memorial University Family Practice’s Ross Centre clinic went live in November; the two remaining test sites went live in December.

Vancouver-based Wolf Medical Systems won the bidding as lead vendor based on two major factors, functionality and price.

“There were other good vendors in the mix,” commented Mike Barron, CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information (NLCHI), but added that Wolf best met our requirements.

The Wolf Medical Suite encompasses four separate modules – billing, scheduling, workflow and clinical. “It does everything to allow a physician to practice chartless,” said Dr. Brendan Byrne, Principal and co-Founder of Wolf Medical Systems.

The initial task is to develop an EMR system for use by 27 physicians at two practices spread across four locations in St. John’s. Based on the results of this “pilot study,” it will provide insight into the development of a region-wide EMR plan.

“It’s only a pilot in the sense that what we learn here will help shape the ideas around getting a strategic plan for the province and how EMRs are rolled out overall,” said Barron.

The infrastructure in the four clinics has been mostly paper-based, though they do have limited access to the regional hospital’s information system, which they can use to view their patients’ lab results. The University practice already had an electronic charting system in place, but it was based on older technology.

With funding from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, they’ll get a state-of-the-art EMR suite; lab information will be integrated from the regional health authority in St. John’s, and clinicians expect to have access to radiology reports and diagnostic images.

The EMR initiative is just one of many provincial health information projects supporting the development of a provincial eHealth information system; one that includes a client registry, a pharmacy network and DI/PACS.

Although diagnostic images are already being shared between clinics and hospitals in Newfoundland and Labrador, the pharmacy network is about two years away from going live in community pharmacies. “Timing-wise, we hope EMR vendors will be able to meet the required timeline of two to three years,” said Barron. “If they’re HL-7 ready by then, they’ll be able to play with us.”

It’s believed one of the key challenges ahead will be physician adoption. They need physicians to understand the value of EMRs and to get to a level of readiness where technology is used to deliver healthcare. “If we can do that, the whole health system will be better off,” said Barron.

As for Wolf Medical Systems, the win in Canada’s “Far East” means they now have physician users from coast-to-coast. In fact, 1,100 physicians at 325 sites are already using the Wolf EMR Suite for their daily activities. The company recently struck a deal with Northwest Territories, and is a leading EMR developer in western Canada with users in BC and Alberta. It has also made progress in Ontario and New Brunswick.