On the record: Technology improves patient care

The opening of a new family doctor clinic. The purchase of the latest device for a hospital diagnostic imaging department. The recruitment of specialists who can provide particular treatment in the community for the first time. These are improvements to local health that attract public attention.

However, advances in process, the behind-the-scenes work at a hospital, while often unnoticed, can have an equally positive impact on patients.

In the 1970s, York Central Hospital was among the first hospitals in Ontario to use computers. The tradition of embracing new technology to improve the quality and efficiency of care to patients and their families continues. In 2003, York Central was the first hospital in the York Region to from organization-wide electronic health records. Digital records ensure physicians get the medical records they need, when they need them, no matter where the physician is.

Almost 10 years ago, the Hospital made the conversion from archived paper and film records to digital files. Since that time, patient information has been quickly accessible when needed. The electronic system allows doctors to send, share and access patient records with the click of a mouse. Electronic Records at York Central is part of the hospitals overall IT plan, and is in keeping with provincial and national eHealth strategies.

“It’s all about getting the right information for the right patient at the right time,” says Director of Medical Informatics and emergency department physician Dr. Karim Jessa.

Dr. Jessa gives the example of a patient who arrives unconscious at emergency with a life-threatening condition. Today, within seconds, a doctor can pull up the patient’s old hospital records on a computer, accessing information such as known medical conditions, allergies and medication use.

In the past, that same physician would have had to call the Health Records Department, where a clerk would search for the documents and bring them to the Emergency Department. This process often took time, sometimes even hours. In that time, the doctor might have already had to make decisions about the patient’s treatment.

“With better and more timely information,” Dr. Jessa says, “doctors are able to make critical decisions based on the most important, up-to-date information.”

Not only can the digital documents be accessed by physicians within the hospital, but shared when needed with family doctors and specialists who could be working locally or around the province or across the country.

Dr. Allan Kagal, a rheumatologist with an office in Maple who provides care to patients at York Central. He has numerous examples of how digital data has streamlined his practice and improved patient care. He can now spend five or 10 minutes to review lab results, rather than waiting for and sorting through mail and faxes, and he is able do it from home in the evening or from a hotel on while vacation. And he can act on that information immediately.

Reviewing lab results at home one evening, Dr. Kagal noted a patient’s hemoglobin levels were critically low. He called the patient at home and told him to go the emergency department, where he was diagnosed where he required a blood transfusion and additional treatment.  “That’s the technology,” he says. “It is a really good thing.”

Dr. Jessa can see a future where the process is even more streamlined. Currently, doctors and nurses update patient charts with pen on paper. Those documents are then scanned and included in the digital records. Down the road, those same notes could be made at the bedside via tablet computers, creating instant digital records.

Dr. Jessa is a member of the Clinical Working Group of the Connecting GTA project, that is developing strategies to share medical records across all healthcare providers in the province including hospitals. He is excited about the future of electronic medical records. “Soon, physicians will be able to access medical records from other GTA hospitals, doctors offices and other health care providers, enabling physicians to provide advice and care. The technology exists, and York Central is excited to be a leader in this progress.”