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Physician IT

Alberta selects vendors for EMR funding

EDMONTON – Alberta will now fund only five Electronic Medical Record systems for its doctors, a development that’s sure to shake up the physician IT sector. In order to continue receiving financial incentives, many physicians will be required to migrate to solutions that have been approved by the government-backed Physician Office Systems Program (POSP).

In late July, the POSP announced that Practice Solutions, Med Access and Wolf Medical Systems were selected as the ‘shortlisted’ vendors. These companies and their solutions will now be evaluated for conformance to POSP standards and usability. Once this testing phase has been passed, master contracts will be signed between the vendors and the POSP.

According to a POSP news release, the shortlisted EMR products are expected to be available to Alberta physicians in late 2008 or early 2009.

Earlier this year, POSP announced that solutions from two other vendors – Epic and EMIS, would be supported with funding if selected for use by physicians. Epic had been chosen by Capital Health, in Edmonton, as a regional solution, while the Calgary Health Region had opted for EMIS.

A total of five solutions will be available to physicians practising medicine in Alberta, down from the current 13. In order to qualify for funding in the future, all Alberta physicians (working outside of hospitals) will need to use one of the systems certified by the POSP.

Surprisingly, Clinicare and Jonoke, major EMR vendors based in Alberta with many users in the province, were not on the shortlist.

Observers have commented that the reduction in certified EMR vendors is bizarre in a province like Alberta, which has traditionally prided itself as free market-promoter, and has been a staunch opponent of government-run schemes.

In recent months, the province has made other puzzling – and uncharacteristic – moves in healthcare.

In particular, in May it eliminated all 12 independent health boards, creating one superboard that will control all health delivery in the province. As a result, the Ministry of Health will have more direct control over the delivery of healthcare.

The decision to reduce the number of funded EMR solutions in Alberta was made during recent tri-lateral negotiations between Alberta Health and Wellness, the Alberta Medical Association and the POSP.

According to an official release, the aim was to develop enhanced abilities in the clinical management systems offered to Alberta physicians.

Some of the enhanced features include:

• Hosted, data-centre based solutions.

• Improved system reliability and service levels.

• Improved support for data conversion from one physician office system to another.

• Improved validity, accuracy and integrity of information.

• Improved sharing between a physician’s electronic medical record and provincial and regional systems.

• Standardized terminology.

• Alignment with emerging pan-Canadian standards.

• Best practice clinical processes and care pathways

While physicians will be required to shift to one of the five certified systems in the future, in order to obtain POSP funding, some members of the industry speculate that many doctors are likely to forgo the funding in order to maintain their existing EMR solution.

That’s because switching over to a new system could be too time-consuming. Some physicians may fear possible disruptions in service and workflow, which would in turn affect their ability to see and treat patients.