A new way to manage your health information: The Continuity of Care Record

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Many of our daily activities involve information management. We use automated banking machines for account updates and bill payment, we book plane tickets online, and in some stores we can even check out our own groceries. As information technology becomes more common and interactive, the ability and expectation for the health-care system to move in this direction makes sense.

In many industries, the key to making information systems useful and successful is to make the consumer a key partner in the process. In March, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre launched a trial for an electronic Continuity of Care Record (CCR) system. The system allows patients to create and manage their own personal health record, meaning patients have online access to things like their medication history, appointment schedule and test results. The groundbreaking model is designed to streamline the way health record information is delivered and exchanged between health-care providers and patients.

“We are beginning to accept that the patient is a key stakeholder in the way we deliver care,” says Sam Marafioti, Vice President responsible for eHealth at Sunnybrook. “Once the consumer is empowered they will change the way health-care is delivered.”

More and more, patients are taking a greater interest in managing their own health and health-care information. Many are researching and gathering disease specific information, and participating in their treatment decisions. According to Sarina Lecce, Director, eHealth Strategies & Operations, Information and Communication Services, this indicates a new type of consumer and a need to meet new expectations.

“The patient will always have the greatest interest in their own health care and that of their family,” says Ms. Lecce. “In order for the consumer to be more effectively involved in managing their health care, it’s time to put the necessary information in their hands.”

Sunnybrook’s CCR initiative involves patients from Sunnybrook and physicians’ offices in the community. These patients and providers will have access to personal health information through a password-protected system, which connects to a patient-specific Sunnybrook portal. It is accessible from anywhere on the Internet, and offers a series of self-managed services such as appointment scheduling, medication refills, patient diary, test results, and email communication. With the patient’s consent, it has the ability to share health information with other providers and caregivers from anywhere at anytime. The system is secured by the same encryption technology used by Canadian banks. Sunnybrook will offer online help and arrange training sessions to assist patients with creating their own or a family member’s health record.

“This concept will change how we think about health care in general,” says Ms. Lecce. “It will empower the consumer in many ways, and the set up is very user friendly. Even young children can use it if required. For example, when helping an ill parent or elderly relative.”

The idea of electronic personal health records not only empowers consumers, it also eases the strain on the entire health-care system by improving clinical workflow. Implementing the CCR will help cut down on telephone tag frustration during the process of referrals and consultations with frequent users, and the need to collect new patient information. Often family physicians must interpret what a patient remembers from their last appointment with a specialist. Linking directly to the information will enable physicians to gain a more thorough understanding of the patient’s history, and as a result improve efficiency.

“The CCR demonstrates a culture change in the industry,” says Sam Marafioti. “It validates the importance of information management, workflow efficiencies, the power of email communication and ultimately how healthcare is moving to the convenient 24/7 space.”