Better, but not there yet: Use of IT in primary care in Canada


When it comes to the use of information technology in primary care in Canada the best that can be said is that all the numbers have trended in the right direction since 2015.

Released by the Canadian Institutes of Health Information (CIHI) last week, the 2019 version of the Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy survey of 11 developed countries focused on primary care physicians and contains a wealth of data on the use of technology as well as on access and coordination of care.

At a time when Canadians and especially primary care physicians are engaged intense discussions about how to better use digital technology to improve care and better involve patients, what is most striking about some of the Commonwealth Fund findings is just how far many Canadian jurisdictions are from even having the basic tools to do this.

While the survey confirms the fact that overall Canadian primary care physicians have made huge gains in incorporating electronic medical records into their practices in the last decade (kudos to @Infoway and all the money put into enabling this in the 2000s), these gains are not evenly distributed. And when it comes to the use of health IT, Canada continues to lag behind other countries polled, in many instances badly.

While 86% of Canadian primary care physicians overall report using electronic medical records (EMRs), the 2019 survey shows only 1 in 4 (26%) are using EMRs in PEI while that percentage is 61% for primary care doctors in New Brunswick and Newfoundland.

Of course, the absence of an EMR makes any electronic engagement with patients or use of information technology to improve quality care a moot point.

As for providing patients with electronic access to their records or enabling electronic communication, Canada continues to also lag most other nations surveyed. Only 23% of Canadian primary care docs offered the option to ask medical questions via email or a secure website, and only 5% have the capacity to let patients see summaries of their medical record online.

These numbers fell far below the average among the other 11 Commonwealth Fund countries surveyed , which includes Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S.

We are also falling short when it comes to connectivity between physicians: The survey showed only 25% of Canadian family doctors used EMRs to exchange clinical summaries and 36% to exchange laboratory results with other physicians (Commonwealth Fund averages: 63% and 65%, respectively).

So, some good stats when looks at 2015 numbers provided for comparison, but many miles to go.

(Illustration: Cover of Future Practice magazine published by the Canadian Medical Association, May 2011)






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