Dr. Mark Dermer and nurse Wendy Powell
“With Infoway, we have the federal body that can lead the way. We need that federal vision to trickle down to real support for doctors ... who are looking to make the plunge.”– Dr. Brian Day , President of the Canadian Medical Association
Doctors' offices and patients see benefits
When a drug is recalled, informing patients quickly is vital. But with many tonnes of paper files in each physician's office, determining which patients are taking that drug can be a time–consuming process.
Thanks to electronic medical records (EMRs), however, it took one Ottawa general practitioner just 15 minutes to pinpoint each of his patients taking Vioxx when that drug was recalled in 2004.
"We are proud to say that on the day of the recall, we knew at 10:15, and by 10:30 we had a list of every patient in this practice who was on Vioxx," says Dr. Mark Dermer. "And the majority of those patients learned about the Vioxx recall from us before they got to the six o'clock news."
Like all busy professionals, doctors and nurses want to minimize drains on their time, and setting up an EMR system can be time consuming. However, Dr. Dermer says it's an investment that pays off. "Within a few months, we certainly were seeing the benefits," he says.
For example, having an office network means that when something new arrives in the office – such as a flu vaccine shipment – everyone knows immediately. Also, sharing information electronically reduces the amount of time nurses and doctors spend looking for each other to trade paper files.
Dr. Dermer and his colleagues aren't the only ones who appreciate EMRs. His patients like them, too. George Roper is dealing with multiple medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, and the aftermath of arterial surgery and colon cancer treatment. Managing his health is a complex task. He likes EMRs because Dr. Dermer can give him an up–to–date printed record of his current condition at each appointment. "I know where I stand," he says. "It's reassuring and it generates confidence in what's going on."
Another patient, Diane Snowball, notes approvingly that Dr. Dermer's EMR system generates automatic reminders. As a result, when she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, someone from the doctor's office called to remind her about her other regular tests, such as a Pap smear.
"You get so involved with other things going on," she says of her time in chemotherapy. "I'm normally pretty good to follow up with this, but things go on in your life and you get sidetracked."
Wendy Powell, a nurse in Dr. Dermer's office, is another fan of electronic records. She says they make it easier to quickly get a clear picture of the patient's status. "It's so efficient. All the information you need about the patient is literally right there at your fingertips."
At first she was afraid that using a computer would mean less face–to–face interaction with colleagues, but after working in an EMR environment for almost a year, she says the EMR system frees up time for useful conversations by automating routine tasks.
"I wouldn't go back to a family practice without an electronic medical record," Ms. Powell says. "It was a good way to function when it was the only way, but it's no longer the way we need to function."