“Data can save lives” The 2022 @Infoway Partnership Conference

One in five clinicians spend more than an hour daily beyond what they think they should be spending in looking for patient information either within or outside their own patient record system.

This finding comes from the Canadian Interoperability Landscape survey conducted by Canada Health Infoway in April with 808 clinicians of whom half were either general practitioners or specialists. Results were released in early November and further discussed as part of the Infoway Partnership conference held in Montreal this week – the first time the conference had been held in person since 2019.

The findings underscore the ongoing challenges physicians can face in accessing the patient data they need even with the prevalence of electronic medical records (EMRs) and was a main theme underlying the Infoway meeting. While the conference focused heavily on the success of recent Infoway initiatives, physicians will be encouraged to hear many speakers over the course of the meeting acknowledged the profession’s concerns.

Four years ago, at the same meeting Infoway positioned itself as an advocate for building a coalition committed to promoting “a future where all Canadians have access to their health information through the availability and use of digital health tools and services, which will empower patients and improve health outcomes.” The whole initiative was branded under the banner ACCESS 2022.

That initiative has now morphed into an emphasis on Connected Care (the more user-friendly term for interoperability) and the need to give all Canadians to ability to access and share their health information while at the same time improving the flow of better and timely data to increase care coordination and help system planning and improved performance.

According to Infoway, a savings of $350 million annually could be gained by having health care providers access complete patient information in one place thereby allowing them to spend more time with patients.

Despite seeing the normalization of virtual care delivery during the COVID pandemic, Dr. Rashaad Bhyat, a Brampton family physician and clinician leader at Infoway told the meeting fragmented and siloed information systems have worsened physician burnout. For example, the Interoperability survey found that more than half of the specialists polled (54%) and 36% of family physicians said they continue to rely on faxes as one of the means of receiving patient summaries from outside their practices.

Other speakers noted that ongoing frustration with digital tools and the administrative burden of maintaining EMRs continues to feed physicians’ ambivalent or negative attitude towards digital care.

In addition to the challenges facing physicians in easily accessing the patient data they need, speakers from OntarioMD noted the majority of primary care physicians currently do not capture data in their EMRs in a codified or structured format that can uploaded to benefit the system and they do not have incentives to do so.

“Health data can save lives” federal health minister Jean-Yves Duclos bluntly told the conference in backing the call for a national framework to better share health data. His fireside chat at the meeting came just days after provincial and territorial health ministers rejected an offer for more healthcare funding from the federal government in part in exchange for supporting a national health data system.

While the whole Infoway conference focused on the need for more health data to be shared more effectively, it was acknowledged during a session on cybersecurity that such increased sharing would likely lead to more cyberattacks on hospitals and other healthcare organizations. The same session heard just how challenging it can be for those schooled in using electronic systems to revert to using paper if electronic systems are unavailable due to a cyberattack.

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