Computerized records:Essential tool for health care

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published On Tue Sep 28 2010

It may be difficult to get an appointment with a family doctor. But once in the door, patients are being treated too heavily with prescription drugs and diagnostic tests, according to Canada’s health system watchdog.

Family doctors are overprescribing medications and tests, such as expensive CT and MRI scans, according to a study released Monday by the Health Council of Canada. Besides driving up costs in an already unmanageable provincial health budget, these practices are harming patients by exposing them to potentially serious drug side effects and unnecessary radiation.

The solution: computerized health records. “It is essential that an electronic system is in place to efficiently assist physicians in . . . making the best decisions for their patients and for the sustainability of our health-care system,” says John Abbott, chief executive of the Health Council.

This is just what Premier Dalton McGuinty has said. When the Liberals came to power in 2003, Canada was behind much of the industrialized world in getting health records online. Within Canada, Ontario was behind other provinces. But in striving to catch up, eHealth Ontario cut corners and exposed the government to charges of “scandal.” Heads subsequently rolled at the agency.

To date, the provincial government has spent $1 billion of taxpayers’ money to computerize patient records, with far too little progress to show for it. But the objective is sound: an electronic record that contains comprehensive information about test results and medications and is accessible to all the necessary health professionals, as the Health Council report confirms.

As family doctors struggle to treat patients with increasingly complex needs and to keep on top of the latest advances in research and drugs, they need more support. We do not want doctors defaulting to expensive “just in case” tests. We know that electronic records can help doctors treat patients more effectively and efficiently by reducing duplication. The Health Council says electronic records can also link prescribed medications and tests with patient outcomes to determine what works and what doesn’t.

Ontarians are well aware of the problems involved in establishing an electronic health record system. The Health Council report serves as a reminder of why it is so important that we continue pursuing this goal.

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