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Better health outcomes result when patients have access to their digital medical records and integrated digital health services. Northern Health is using digital health to provide that access and help patients become more engaged in their health and care journey.

Shifting from paper to electronic medical records (EMR), where patients can access their health data, lets Canadians become more engaged in their health care. However, the current lack of a completely integrated and unified EMR systems, can result in fragmented patient experience and the risk of patient needs falling through the cracks.

“While huge progress has been made in Canada over the last decade in advancing medical records availability through EMRs, there’s still a lot of work to be done,” says Bjorn Butow, Director, Clinical Information Systems and Co-Lead of SaferCare at Northern Health, a rural health authority in northern British Columbia. With COVID-19 imposing wide and rapid uptake of virtual care — where more patients are engaging virtually in care and accessing their health records — the pressure to accelerate the adoption of EMRs and Patient Portals is growing rapidly.

Range of health services through one touch point

To enhance its own digital healthcare delivery, Northern Health recently launched a secure patient portal called HealtheLife, provided by its EMR vendor Cerner Canada, one of the largest health record system providers. “We started by first providing what patients request most — access to their COVID-19 results, lab and imaging test results, and the ability to self-book appointments,” says Butow.

Over time, Northern Health plans to provide more parts of the patient’s health records and offer additional digital health services. This includes secure integrated video appointments and two-way messaging between the patient and physician, hospital, or care team. “With every interaction — whether immunization, COVID-19 test, prescription, or referrals — over time we want the EMR and Patient Portal to be in sync. We believe the best experience for our patients and healthcare professionals is an integrated frictionless approach that is done in the context of the patient’s healthcare journey,” says Butow. 

Surgery is another example. “Ideally a patient and their family could track all facets of their surgical journey — their admission, procedure details, in-hospital recovery, discharge plan, and their care plan,” says Butow. 

While Canadians have the right to request their records from their family doctor or hospitals, the process can be inconvenient and time consuming. The idea behind HealtheLife is to enable access in a more real time way. “In the near future, we hope to give our patients access to the clinician’s notes while they’re lying in bed in the hospital, or as they’re walking out of their clinic appointment,” says Butow. 

Designed to be user-friendly, interactive, and patient-centric, HeatheLife allows patients to get all the information they need and contribute to their own health care from a single touchpoint.

Patient empowerment and activation driving next decade of digital health

The themes of patient empowerment and activation are expected to be major drivers over the next decade for digital health. “It’s all about our patients and how we can enable them to become more activated in their health care,” says Butow.

With COVID having laid bare the need for a robust digital health system, substantial progress is already under way. “We’ve done more on this virtual care patient engagement side in the last eight months than we have in the past five years and I think we’re going to see some real acceleration from a national perspective,” says Michael Billanti, Director of Population Health for Cerner Canada. 

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