Hospital turns to students to solve electronic health records challenge

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By Kari Pasick-St

St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton hired an army of 58 co-op students for the Fall 2017 term, 35 of which were hired from the University of Waterloo to help launch the Dovetale project, a new digital infrastructure for patient care at St. Joe’s.

The project is a fully integrated, safe and secure information solution that will place all of a patient’s information in one location. Patients will only need to tell their full story once, and all caregivers will see that same information. This move will make St. Joe’s a fully electronic hospital, one of only eight in Canada with this level of technology today.

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Currently, a single visit to the hospital could result in over 180 pieces of paper, creating a potential for error and inefficiencies. Dr. David Higgins, President of St. Joe’s, says that it’s time to move from pen and paper to the digital age. “The pace of healthcare, the info we need to care for patients, is really significant,” says Dr. Higgins. “A patient may be on 12 or 13 medications, have different needs, and even one error, even moving from one location to another, is a profound source of risk.”

Ross Johnston, executive director of co-operative education at Waterloo, says that hiring 35 co-op students in a single term may be unusual, but support from fellow co-op students can actually help them be confident and successful in their roles. He is in awe of the work that has been accomplished with the Dovetale project. “It’s incredible, the courage shown by St. Joe’s to take this leap toward becoming a fully digital hospital,” says Johnston. “We are so proud that our students have had the opportunity to make such an impact on this project.”

When St. Joe’s officially flipped the switch to a digital state on December 2, 2017, co-op students were an integral asset to its success, taking on the challenge of helping provide 24-hour support in the 6 weeks following the launch, some shifts were staffed by co-op students.

Tara Coxon, chief information officer at St. Joe’s (and a Waterloo Science and Business grad), isn’t surprised that the students are so adaptable. A strong proponent of the co-op experience, she knew that bringing in a large co-op team would get the job done. Her message to the students: “We would not be here without you,” says Coxon. “You are an integral part of our team. You are key.”

Kari Pasick-St is the Strategic Communications Manager at UWaterloo’s Co-operative Education and Career Action Centre.