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Friday, 27 May 2011 10:45

Cyberspace improves Alberta’s health care delivery

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By Susan Quinlan
Although even a decade ago, Albertans may have shuddered to think of their health care information hanging out in electronic cyberspace waiting to be hijacked, electronic health care records have become the norm.

Now in its fifth year of operation, Alberta Netcare (Netcare) has launched successfully with enough checks, balances and booby traps to deter even the most hardcore hacker. Netcare is the single name used for all the projects and activities related to Alberta's Electronic Health Record (EHR), the record that now contains each resident’s health information.

Darsey Milford, owner of Turtle Mountain Pharmacy, was the first pharmacist to link in and continues to sing the praises of the electronic health record system.

“It’s awesome. I don’t know how I’d survive without it,” said Milford.

Having spent a couple of days earlier this past week without access, due to a password glitch, Milford said she was at a loss, as she’s grown accustomed to having the additional patient information Netcare provides.

“Now that I have it, I couldn’t do without it.”

In particular, the information Milford most often accesses includes lab values of drugs, hormone levels, potassium levels and other blood components.

“All that information is in there and very helpful for the pharmacist dispensing the drugs.”

Milford said Netcare as well has particular value for patients who are just visiting the region.

“A person may come to our area and stay longer than intended … he has no prescription or empty bottle of pills; he’s trying to describe what the bottle looks like … now, all I have to do is go into Netcare and I can help him out.”

Howard May, spokesperson, Alberta Health and Wellness, said the information available in the EHR includes community pharmacy drug dispenses, laboratory test results, diagnostic imaging test reports, and a number of other types of medical reports such as post-operative reports and hospital discharges.

“It does not include doctors' notes from community physician offices,” said May.

As to ways in which Netcare saves time and provides better service to Albertans, May cited the following.

“Alberta Netcare saves pharmacists’ time and improves their ability to provide patient care by providing more comprehensive medication profiles, identifying duplicate therapies, validating previous doses, ensuring lab monitoring is completed, avoiding adverse drug interactions and avoiding allergic reactions, if they have been reported.

“Drug conflicts can be a life threatening issue which is  prevented by Alberta Netcare in a number of ways; clinicians can see what others are prescribing and avoid duplicate prescriptions for the same patient (accidental or double doctoring), or if a duplicate prescription is created, pharmacists can catch the duplication and not dispense the drug.”

As well, the Alberta Netcare drug information system keeps track of all dispenses to an individual and provides automatic alerts when a conflicting drug is prescribed or dispensed, said May.

Netcare also makes lab and diagnostic imaging test results available across the province, said May, so one health-care provider can see the results of tests requested by another and if they need the same data, they may not have to re-do the test.

“This saves time both for the patient, and the time it takes to diagnose and provide treatment.”

In addition, May said communicating patient information between facilities is now faster and easier.

“When the information is available in the EHR, a clinician does not have to contact another facility to request records and then wait for them to be sent over. Clinicians have the information they need right at the point of care.”

Of 4,000 pharmacists in Alberta, May said 3,032 now have access to the Alberta Netcare EHR.

As to security of Netcare’s EHRs, May said several security measures have been taken.

“The Alberta Netcare EHR has a number of technological and policy-based security measures in place to protect Albertans' electronic health records. The security controls used to protect information viewable through Alberta Netcare are based on international standards and best practices.”

Those standards and practices, said May, include passwords and PIN numbers that are frequently changed and must be used to log in; encryption of messages; and firewalls and intrusion detection systems that alert personnel of unusual activity.

Access to Netcare’s EHR is also restricted by permission levels based on a need-to-know basis, said May, with 21 levels of permission currently in place for medical personnel and six levels in place for pharmacists.

Penalties for violating the information in Netcare have as well been put in place, with the Health Information Act (HIA) having established fines for anyone knowingly collecting, using or disclosing health information or gaining or attempting to gain access to health information, said May.

“Individuals who breach privacy and access rules could be subject to criminal charges, fines of up to $100,000 and disciplinary measures within their licensing or professional organizations.”

To learn more about Alberta Netcare, go to:

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