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Primary care

EHR will improve healthcare for Toronto’s homeless

TORONTO – Health professionals serving the homeless community in Toronto will be enabled to provide better healthcare, thanks to innovative technology which gives them accurate, up-to-date information on their patients.

An investment of approximately $900,000 from Canada Health Infoway will make it possible to electronically link three care settings at the Sherbourne Health Centre: the Health Centre itself, which is a downtown Toronto clinic; the Health Centre’s two mobile health buses that provide outreach medical services mostly to the homeless; and a 20-bed infirmary for people released from acute care who may not have adequate accommodations for a proper recovery (to be opened in early 2007).

Through this investment, Sherbourne’s existing Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system, supplied by CLINICARE, of Calgary, will be made available within the mobile health buses. The system will allow nurses and caseworkers on the buses to use a notebook computer and wireless connections linked to the Health Centre’s main server to create, update and access patient records.

The records will also be accessible at the infirmary. Once the project is complete, caregivers will be able to seamlessly access patient information across all three care settings.

“A significant number of our clients are homeless or under-housed and many will be served by our infirmary, health buses and clinic,” said Suzanne Boggild (pictured), chief executive officer. “By ensuring that each patient has a single, accurate and up-to-date record, shared across all our care settings, we greatly enhance care and reduce the chance for errors or inefficiencies.”

Infoway’s president and CEO, Richard Alvarez, said: “We’re proud to be a part of this exciting initiative. Across the country, countless errors occur because care providers lack critical information on patients. Sharing information across care settings – like Sherbourne will do —can help improve patient safety significantly.”

“This new and important investment by Canada Health Infoway provides the Sherbourne Health Centre with a vital and innovative e-health solution that enables healthcare providers to continue providing consistent, quality care in each of the Centre’s treatment settings,” said George Smitherman, Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. “Our government continues to recognize and support the important work of the Centre, most recently through an investment of more than $2.5 million to increase access to services.”

Dr. James Read, Sherbourne medical director says, “by having an integrated system, all providers can access a client’s health record and be part of creating and managing one plan, thus increasing the likelihood of providing more comprehensive and better care.”

Dean Walters, a registered nurse on the Health Bus, is also enthusiastic about the benefits. “People needing services not available on the bus can be assured that their needs will be met when their health record is securely transmitted to the clinic at the centre.”

The project supports several provincial and federal healthcare objectives. Greater efficiencies in service and fewer duplications should result in both cost-savings and shorter wait times. As well, elimination of prescription and test duplication that often occurs with traditional record keeping will enhance patient safety.

Sherbourne’s chief information officer, Brad Harrington, says “the creation of an integrated EMR will be challenging, but can be achieved by utilizing existing systems and technology and linking them with new innovations.”

The linking of the three care settings is expected to be fully implemented and operational in the fall of 2007.

About Canada Health Infoway (Infoway)
Infoway is an independent not-for-profit organization that invests with public sector partners across Canada to implement and reuse compatible health information systems which support a safer, more efficient healthcare system. Fully respecting patient confidentiality, these private and secure systems provide healthcare professionals with rapid access to complete and accurate patient information, enabling better decisions about diagnosis and treatment. The result is a sustainable, healthcare system offering improved quality, accessibility and productivity. For its part, Sherbourne Health Centre began offering services in 2003 to the diverse communities in southeast Toronto, particularly the homeless, recent immigrants as well as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered and transsexual communities. Its mission is to reduce barriers to healthcare. To accomplish this staff are organized in client-centred, primary healthcare interdisciplinary teams comprised of a variety of professionals, including doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, case workers, and counsellors. Sherbourne’s innovative, welcoming, inclusive and accessible approach to building a healthier community will make the centre a 21st century pioneer in urban healthcare delivery.