Inside the October 2006 print
edition of Canadian Healthcare Technology:
Feature Report: Developments in telehealth
Group Health Centre EMR to include local pharmacists
The Group Health Centre, a large ambulatory care
facility that’s been dubbed ‘a hospital without beds’, is investing
$3.5 million in a project to extend its electronic medical record
system to local pharmacists.
Atlantic Health launches region-wide EMR project
The Atlantic Health Sciences Corp., based in Saint
John, N.B., has embarked on a $24 million project to upgrade its
existing electronic medical record system and extend it across the
region, the largest in the province.
READ THE STORY
X-rays for orthopedics
The Royal Columbian Hospital, in New Westminster,
B.C., is a partner in the research and development of 3D X-ray
technology that captures images of joints while patients are
standing or sitting. Traditionally, 3D X-ray images have been
acquired using CT scans, with patients lying flat on their backs.
Increasingly, hospitals across Canada want to
monitor the quality of their programs using computerized tools. We
look at the experiences of facilities in Montreal and Halifax.
READ THE STORY
Global physician IT
When the University of Victoria’s Dr. Denis Protti
tracked the usage of clinical information systems by physicians in
Europe, he discovered why European docs are much more computerized
than their North American equivalents.
What is telehealth?
While telehealth projects continue to spring up
across Canada, many healthcare professionals still wonder what the
term means. Canadian Society of Telehealth president Dr. Richard
PLUS news stories, analysis, and features and more.
Group Health Centre EMR to include local pharmacists
By Jerry Zeidenberg
SAULT STE. MARIE, ONT. – The Group Health Centre, a large ambulatory
care facility that’s been dubbed ‘a hospital without beds’, is investing
$3.5 million in a project to extend its electronic medical record system
to local pharmacists.
Known as EMRxtra, the program is expected to reduce medical error, boost
patient safety and improve communication and collaboration among
physicians and pharmacists.
In addition to GHC, partners in the plan include Canada Health Infoway,
which is contributing $2 million, and the Ontario Pharmacists’
Association, which is involved in the change management component of the
project. Both partner organizations are interested in the possibility of
transferring the technology and methodology to other regions in the
For its part, the Group Health Centre has been using an electronic
medical record system, supplied by Calgary-based Clinicare Corp., since
1997. More than 100 physicians and clinicians currently use the system,
which has been credited with improving workflow at the facility and
medical outcomes for patients.
As part of the current project, Clinicare’s software will be available
to all 22 of the city’s pharmacies, ultimately giving pharmacists access
– with high-level security – to the records of the patients enrolled in
the EMRxtra program.
The current pilot program is expandable, and in the future could include
all of the GHC’s 60,000 patients.
Tamara Shewciw, senior manager for information technology at the GHC,
said that extending the system to pharmacists is expected to improve
medical care in several ways.
“It will help to reduce medication errors by allowing pharmacists to
have access to clinical information about patients electronically, and
it will make better use of the expertise of pharmacists by including
them in the circle of care.”
Tommy Cheung, director of information technology and e-Health with the
Ontario Pharmacists’ Association, concurred. “In the past, pharmacists
have worked blindly,” he said. “The patient arrives, the pharmacist
receives the prescription, but he doesn’t know the clinical background
and intent. He doesn’t know why the patient is getting the medication.
“It is very difficult for pharmacists to collaborate with physicians and
other primary care providers without the IT platform,” said Cheung. “By
having access to the electronic medical information, pharmacists will be
able to utilize their expertise to deliver chronic disease and
medication management and to help their patients to achieve better
As well, “If the pharmacist knows the reason for the change, he or she
might be able to recommend a more effective medication,” Shewciw added,
noting that physicians aren’t always aware of the options that are
available. That includes less costly alternatives for patients who
aren’t covered by medication insurance.
With the permission of patients, pharmacists will be able to access
patient drug profiles, current lab test results, clinical intent of
prescribed medications and the patient’s care plan.
Overall, the EMRxtra solution will allow physicians and pharmacists to
work together more closely than before – with pharmacists providing
faster and more comprehensive decision support.
Indeed, the Clinicare system includes electronic messaging, enabling
physicians and pharmacists to communicate quickly and securely.
Shewciw pointed out that communication between pharmacists and
physicians does occur today, but the process is slowed by the inevitable
telephone or fax delays.
Using electronic messaging is a more direct solution. “Communication
becomes much faster, thanks to the messaging function in Clinicare,”
Notes left by pharmacists and primary care physicians will also be
accessible to other care-givers – with proper security access – giving
them a better understanding of a patient’s medical status. These
care-givers may include physician specialists, therapists, home care
nurses, along with others. “We’re aiming at a true sharing of
information, as we believe in the circle of care,” said Shewciw.
She commented that Sault Ste.-Marie physicians and pharmacists have
talked about using a common electronic record for years. However, it has
only become viable recently with the latest version of Clinicare, which
offers advanced security features.
For example, the new system contains role-based security features,
meaning that a patient can decide which providers can or cannot see his
or her record. Shewciw pointed out that the program is
‘patient-centric’, and that patients will determine who can access their
The current system also contains a ‘handcuffing’ feature, which provides
complete or partial access to the record, depending on the person
viewing it. “A physician could be given access to the entire chart,
while a physiotherapist may only need to see part of it,” said Shewciw.
“Access can be fine-tuned.”
She noted that a good deal of effort will be required to set up and
monitor the system. However, the GHC through this project has both the
human resources and the funding to do it.
Shewciw also pointed out that pharmacists currently use their own
electronic systems, and will be accessing the Clinicare system through
However, in the future, a consolidation of systems is expected.
EMRxtra will first be used in a pilot with several hundred of the GHC’s
patients in two programs – the Congestive Heart Failure Program and the
Vascular Intervention Program. It will then be made available to all of
the centre’s patients – a community of some 60,000.
Shewciw said a patient portal is also an important part of the program.
Its first phase will provide patients better access to their individual
EMR, which includes their records of diagnoses and treatment, including
medications and educational services, along with action scorecards that
will allow patients to work towards goals on their own and with their
families. A second phase would encourage patients to become more
involved in their care.
“We’ve been surprised by the amount of interest in the portal,” said
Shewciw. “A city newspaper wrote about it, and we’ve been flooded by
calls about it since then, with people wanting to know how to sign up.”
That’s a positive development, she said, indicating that patients want
to take charge of their own health.
In a news release, Dr. Lewis O’Brien, physician lead for the EMRxtra
project, said: “The addition of pharmacists is a natural and long
overdue component of the circle of care. This program will enable me to
make better use of the expertise provided by pharmacists, make more
efficient use of my time and hopefully provide a more convenient and
effective patient experience.”
Marc Kealey, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists’ Association, said: “With
access to an electronic system, pharmacists in Sault Ste. Marie will be
able to fully collaborate with physicians and the rest of the provider
team and resolve drug related issues more effectively for their
Richard Alvarez, Infoway’s president and CEO, observed: “We’re pleased
to help support this initiative, which will not only help to improve the
quality of care for patients of the Group Health Centre, but can also
serve as a model for improving healthcare in Canada.”
New Brunswick’s Atlantic Health Sciences Corp. launches I3 Project
By Jerry Zeidenberg
The Atlantic Health Sciences Corp., the largest healthcare system in New
Brunswick, has announced a $24 million initiative to implement a
region-wide electronic health record system using solutions from
Called the I3 Project, “the goal is to ensure integrated
interdisciplinary information (I3) is collected and available in real
time for the best possible care of the patient,” according to executives
from the AHSC.
A critical part of the three-year-long project will be patient-safety.
Features such as Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE), Knowledge
Based Medication Administration (KBMA) and clinical documentation will
provide valuable support to clinicians.
Through CPOE, Physicians will enter orders directly into the system,
dramatically lowering the possibility of errors in transcription or
difficulties in reading handwritten orders.
KBMA will help reduce the risk of medication administration errors
through the use of bar code technology. Clinical documentation will
provide a real-time source of information on the care of the patient, to
give clinicians the most current data on which to make decisions.
“Patient safety is a key part of the project,” said Derrick Jardine,
chief information officer for the AHSC. “Another important aspect is
real-time decision support.”
Jardine explained that the new system will support various types of
rules to help physicians and clinicians as they diagnose patients and
Eclipsys was chosen as the solution provider after a five-month long
assessment of systems from a variety of vendors. About 500 staff members
at AHSC were involved in the evaluation, which began last October and
included clinical scenarios and product demonstrations webcast
throughout the healthcare region.
Implementations of the new solutions – called Eclipsys Sunrise Clinical
Manager, a suite of applications that includes acute care, critical
care, and emergency care – will begin in September.
Some of AHSC’s facilities previously used electronic patient record
systems – coincidentally from Eclipsys. However, the existing solutions
were originally installed in 1981 and are among the oldest computerized
systems operating in Canada.
Not only will the new solutions offer a dramatic improvement in
functionality, but they will be installed in all 13 of the AHSC’s
hospitals and health centres, creating a regional EMR that can be
accessed by authorized clinicians throughout the area.
As part of the solution, referring physicians and specialists in
practices outside of AHSC hospitals and health centres will be able to
access the electronic health record system. “Any allied physician with
Internet access will be able to connect to the system,” said Jardine.
“That was a requirement of the original RFP.”
Training and change management will also be important parts of the
project. In fact, Jardine notes that training will account for $2
million to $3 million of the budget for the project. “Close to 3,000
staff from a variety of disciplines will be trained,” he said.
“We’re anticipating a nurse to require 10 hours of training,” he said,
noting that training will be provided through a combination of
e-learning, classroom and on-the-job training methods. “We’ll have
trainers, mentors and super-users,” said Jardine.
The AHSC has been using solutions from Cerner for lab and pharmacy, as
well as a PACS from Agfa and back-office systems from Meditech. Overall,
Jardine estimates there are some 20 different systems used for various
applications, including several that were developed in-house. All of
these systems will need to be integrated into the new electronic health
Moreover, the AHSC will have to migrate historical information into the
new system. Jardine noted that decisions still must be made regarding
how far to go back into patient records when populating the new system
Another important part of the implementation is a work process review.
“We’re analyzing current work processes to better understand the needs
of the clinicians and to see how the I3 Project can support them,”
commented Jardine. A process to determine return-on-investment is also
“We want to demonstrate the benefits that are obtained from the system,
such as the impact on patient safety and clinician efficiency – the time
a clinician spends with patients versus documenting encounters,” said
Jardine. “We don’t want the measurements of success simply to be things
like finishing the implementation on time.”
For its part, the Atlantic Health Sciences Corp., headquartered in Saint
John, serves a patient population of 200,000 in its catchment area. In
addition, it provides specialized services such as cardiology, oncology
and neurology to 750,000 patients across the province.
While the system being implemented will establish a regional patient
record, the data will eventually be published to a provincial
repository, as part of New Brunswick’s plan to create a province-wide
system of electronic patient records. “The provincial health plan
through the department of e-Health envisions ‘one patient, one record’,
as an important element to a comprehensive healthcare strategy for all
New Brunswickers,” noted Jardine. “The I3 Project is a key step in
realizing that vision.”
Multi-functional X-ray device pioneered in New Westminster, B.C.
By Andy Shaw
Stand on your own two feet. That’s an instruction you’re not likely to
hear very often in a diagnostic imaging clinic. But it is being given
gently these days to orthopedic patients at the 352-bed Royal Columbian
Hospital (RCH) in New Westminster, B.C. There, Philips Medical Systems,
in conjunction with Royal Columbian’s radiologists and researchers, are
pioneering and clinically testing a multi-purpose X-ray system called
MultiDiagnost (MD) Eleva 3-D-RX, which can capture 3-D images of the
knee, ankle, and other joints while patients are standing or sitting
upright and thus bearing their own weight.
“Pretty much all other 3-D imaging, like CT or MRI, for example, is done
with the patient lying on table or being otherwise supported,” says
Peter Schable, RCH’s director of medical imaging. “But if you stand the
patient up, you can see where the joint spaces are gone, or where the
abrasion of the bones on each other is taking place. And those are
things you can’t really see with other imaging because the joint is not
bearing weight and therefore stressed.”
The hardware end of the MD Eleva in use at Royal Columbian features a
large C-shaped arm that can be rotated to the horizontal position, then
raised or lowered so that a patient can stand between X-ray emitting and
receiving ends of the C with his or her knee exactly targeted in the
middle. The subsequent 180 degree “iso-centric” rotating fluoroscopic
scan of the knee done by the C arm produces an image which the still
evolving Eleva software then processes. The result is a 3-D view of the
joint that is detailed and natural in appearance, rather than
ghost-like. It is a reconstructed but artifact-free, CT-like picture
whose clarity can pinpoint pathology.
“We are also using the MD Eleva to examine the cervical spine and bones
in the neck,” says Schable. “And you can see even subtle changes to the
articulating surfaces of the neck when it is flexed or extended, again
while the patient is standing or sitting up.”
In addition, Philips and Royal Columbian are watching how the MD Eleva
system performs in other spinal imaging circumstances where load bearing
is not important, but having the fine detail of a CT-like image is.
“We’re using the MD Eleva to assess the results of verboplasty
procedures that cement vertebrae into position,” explains Schable. “The
advantage it has over CT is that you can see 3D volumetric images of
what you’ve done while the patient is still on the operating table and
while you’re doing the procedure. So the patient doesn’t have to move
off to another suite for imaging.”
Such efficiency and flexibility is important to the mission of RCH.
Though not a specialist orthopedic hospital, it is the main trauma and
emergency hospital, as well as a cardiology, vascular, and neurology
centre, for the entire Fraser Health Authority, which serves some 1.5
million people living in the lower mainland.
“You can use the MD Eleva both as a radiographic and as a fluoroscopic
unit and can also be used for interventional radiology procedures,” says
Schable. “So beside our high-end (cardiovascular) imaging suite we have
built a multi-functional room where we can use the Eleva to do a broad
range of less complicated imaging and interventional tasks – especially
ones which don’t need to tie up an operating room. That multifunctional
room also provides back-up for us as a referral centre for Fraser
Health. So, all in all, I would say that the Eleva helps us reduce
hospital stays, speed up recovery time, and generally gives us a better
way of doing things for the specialist physicians, nurses, and
technologists who run our radiology department.”
But it is more the range of RCH’s resident minds that caused Philips
Medical Systems, based in Bothwell, Wash., to look not too far north
across the border and choose the Royal Columbian to put the MD Eleva
system through its first paces.
“The Royal Columbian has been a very good partner for Philips for
several years and we’ve done a number of things with them in the past to
help evaluate and test our products,” says Scott Burkhart, general X-ray
vice president for Philips North America.
“So we’ve seen how their staff has the curious spirit and the focus
needed to think of things that have not been done before and therefore
to do good research,” says Burkhart. “They are also very easy to work
with. So when we wanted to test this new 3D multifunctional system, it
was a very natural thing to turn to them. We knew they could help us
sort out what the clinical issues were.”
Royal Columbian staff first saw the MD Eleva two years ago, when it was
demonstrated by Philips a the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA)
show in Chicago, and marvelled at what Burkhart describes as its “Swiss
army knife” flexibility.
“It can be used for orthopedics, pain management, vascular exams,
electro-physiology, to name a few,” says Burkhart. “And that’s part of
the problem for us. People wonder: What is this thing? Aside from
telling them it’s a Swiss army knife, I say the killer app it has is the
ability to produce CT-quality images in 3D. And I also think 3D imaging
will broaden into other forms of imaging, and eventually comparing
interchangeable images of all modalities in 3D will become the norm.”
Continuous assessments enable hospitals to change, measure quality
By Dianne Daniel
Most people are familiar with the adage, “If it ain’t
broke, don’t fix it.” But how many ever stop to consider the opposite
scenario: “If I don’t know it’s broken, how can I fix it?”
Quality co-ordinator Elsa Salomon does.
For more than 12 years, Salomon has been evaluating patient satisfaction
at the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM), as a way
of helping hospital decision-makers. Based on the premise that “you
can’t improve what you don’t measure,” the information collected is used
to implement quality improvements that keep the hospital aligned with
its core values.
Key to the hospital’s assessment program is determining what questions
to ask in the first place. “You do not ask a question that you’re not
ready to hear the answer to,” says Salomon, using the example that if
patients are asked to rate satisfaction with hospital operating hours,
then administrators must be prepared to address it. “Are you willing –
or able – to do something about it? If the answer is no, then don’t ask
the question,” she says.
Working with an on-line, web-based surveying tool from Montreal-based
Agili-T Health Solutions Inc., CHUM conducts one major assessment of
patient satisfaction every five years, as well as 12 to 15 surveys each
year that are more specific in nature. To date, the majority of surveys
have been paper-based, but the hospital is moving towards using computer
kiosks and handheld devices at the bedside, says Salomon.
The Agili-T tool, called Androfact, offers a bank of validated questions
prepared in collaboration with the University of Montreal and the
Greater Montreal Regional Health Board. The questions are designed to
measure different dimensions of healthcare delivery.
The subject matter covers everything required to monitor a patient
experience, from accessibility to outcomes, including wait times, how
easy it is to get around, the attitudes of physicians, the technical
quality of care and the quality of the food.
When preparing a survey, users like CHUM simply point and click on
existing questions, selecting those that best suit their needs.
“It’s like a pantry; you know what you need and you put it all into your
pantry and then, depending on the recipe that you want to make, you get
the necessary ingredients,” says Salomon. “Agili-T furnishes the basic
information and analysis that are necessary to start your improvement
Androfact is offered using an application service provider (ASP)
licensing model, with prices varying from $7,500 to $60,000 per year
depending on variables such as the number of surveys conducted, the
number of question modules (or banks) used and how many reports are
made. The company provides a fully hosted, secure, hardware
infrastructure as well as the software and, according to Agili-T
president Richard Pridham, new product releases are available every six
Unlike market research firms that conduct surveys as an outsourced
service, usually as a one-time endeavour, Androfact enables healthcare
organizations to personalize the process of obtaining feedback, keeping
it in-house at a price than enables a continual flow of information.
“Our customers don’t have to be experts in creating surveys,” notes
Pridham. “They log onto the system and literally pick and choose from
among the questions we offer.”
As hospital or health-region users select their questions, a
corresponding database is automatically generated. Once the answers are
entered – either manually or by scanning – results are analyzed.
The reports available through Androfact provide a weighted satisfaction
value that can then be used to determine where improvements need to be
made. “We provide the business intelligence aspect to help them figure
out what the data means, so they can determine whether or not they’re
meeting patient expectations,” explains Pridham.
For example, one team at CHUM has used the survey process as a way to
assess several changes implemented over a five-year period. By asking
the same questions each year, they were able to assess which changes had
the most impact on patient satisfaction. Eventually, Salomon would like
to extend this type of analysis among teams as well.
“Instead of a team evaluating their personal best, they should be able
to start looking at it from one team to another, willing to compare and
willing to benchmark,” she notes.
Internal benchmarking is an area the Izaak Walton Killiam (IWK) Health
Centre in Halifax is hoping to get into once it begins to use the
Androfact tool this fall. According to manager of quality Brenda
MacDonald, the facility has been distributing paper-based questionnaires
for several years in order to obtain patient feedback and currently uses
16 in-house developed surveys geared to 16 separate service areas.
Although it maintains a database of the information collected, it hasn’t
been able to compare results because the questions aren’t standardized.
Moving to the validated questions available in Androfact will change
that, says MacDonald. “Using standardized questions throughout the
organization gives you the ability to pool your results,” she says. “We
currently can’t do that.”
In addition to moving to the web-based service, IWK is also looking to
improve how surveys are disseminated. In addition to the labour-intensive
process of sending out paper-based questionnaires, the health centre
will be using Androfact to launch a survey on its website this fall and
is also considering the use of computer kiosks in common areas or
patient lounges. “Some will still prefer paper,” notes MacDonald. “But
the Internet is much more available now and is the way to go.”
In order to reach as wide an audience as possible, IWK will be tapping
into the multilingual capabilities in Androfact, offering its English
questions in French, Arabic and other languages at the click of a
button, says MacDonald. “Everything we’ve done to date has been English,
and we know the patients and families we serve don’t always speak
English,” she says. “Using the validated question banks … allows us to
be more inclusive.”
Both Salomon and MacDonald are adamant the information gleaned from
patient satisfaction surveys is crucial to improving service quality. At
IWK, several themes have emerged from survey responses over the years,
resulting in lasting improvements. For example, new moms consistently
indicated the information they received about breastfeeding was
inconsistent and confusing. As a result, the hospital provided nursing
staff with an education module outlining current best practices so that
messaging would be more consistent.
Another theme indicated that hospital signage wasn’t sufficient and that
patients were having difficulty finding their way around, leading to the
implementation of a new signage system that’s still “work in progress”
Unlike system-wide surveys – typically population or accountability
studies – the information collected using Androfact is site-specific,
department-specific and even change-specific, enabling quality managers
to address the issues that really matter at the front lines, says
“We provide a way to drill down and get feedback at the departmental
level on an ongoing basis and to do it effectively and efficiently
without absorbing major costs,” he says. “We then deliver that feedback
inside the organization to those on the front lines who can bring about