What’s an EHR for, anyway?

Sample patient record view from VistA Imaging
Example of EHR (VISTA)

There is trouble in e-health land, at least in Ontario’s funny notion of what they might mean.  EHealth Ontario has been subject to an emergency audit of its procurement or not of an electronic health record [EHR] by the Auditor General of the province.  Apparently, somewhere approaching C$1 billion has been spent with virtually nothing to show for it.  The problems lie in a bad ehealth strategy, and inappropriate use of consultants.

There are lessons here for other jurisdictions, as they seek to embrace the benefits of EHRs, and ehealth more widely, in particular. Of course, what is an EHR for, is the core question.

One of my alma maters, McMaster University, has sprung into the fray saying it has an EHR called OSCAR that could be implemented for perhaps 2% of the estimated cost of a provincial EHR.  Their argument being that a lot of doctors are using it.

EHRs are not a tool for doctors, though.

EHRs are an integrated information repository to facilitate better healthcare.  Doctors are not the only oranges, and nurses, physios, social workers, pharmacists, OTs, oh, yes patients and parents, informal carers, too, need access to health records. In my view, patients should own and hold their own health record, to ensure high audit standards (would you let an error remain on your health record if you knew about it?).

Servicing the specific needs of doctors alone is not an EHR strategy worth having, and doctors themselves should be the first to say this. It is time they showed leadership within the wider healthcare system, and rejected self-serving models, such as McMaster’s, which automate obsolete information models. McMaster, too, should have known better.

The Ontario Ministry of Health has wisely rejected OSCAR’s offer, but for the wrong reasons.  Citing the need for doctors to choose their own systems, just shows their continuing logic of catering to the needs of a particular health profession, rather than addressing the systematic provision of patient information within an integrated decision-support system.

All this is being driven by beleagured officials who really need to think again about their priorities and why they really need an EHR.  Perhaps they are afraid to admit to having made a mistake.  Such hubris.

Clearly more work is needed to define the purpose of the EHR and the goals for an ehealth strategy in Ontario (and other jurisdictions of course), before more taxpayers’ money is spent on ehealth.

Oh yes, apparently Ontario are going for a tender on a diabetes registry. NYC has one. I fear the worst.

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