British Columbia

Nanaimo hospital replaces paper charts with electronic health records

New electronic health records have replaced paper charts at the hospital in Nanaimo, but the transition has not been easy on patients and staff.

Some say transition to using mobile computer work stations has been difficult

A view of Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.
Nanaimo Regional General Hospital is the first hospital on Vancouver Island to move to a paperless system. (Island Health)

New electronic health records have replaced paper charts at the hospital in Nanaimo, but the transition has not been easy on patients and staff.

Mary Desprez brought her mother to the emergency department for care just as the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital went paperless in late March.

"She's an elderly woman suffering. She has major pain going on. Five hours to get her to a place where she could lie down," Desprez said, adding that the wait was extra long because doctors and nurses were trying to learn how to use new mobile computers.

"If you can imagine working in an emergency ward while you are trying to learn a new computer system, it's pretty stressful."

The new workstations — on wheels —  are part of a system of digital health records called 'IHealth' that Vancouver Island's health authority is testing in Nanaimo. Island Health has plans to eventually expand the program to other hospitals on the island.

Difficult transition

Steps were taken to reduce the impact of moving to digital records in Nanaimo, according to Island Health spokeswoman Catherine Claiter-Larsen.

The new workstations on wheels allow doctors and nurses to put patient information directly into an electronic health record. (Island Health)

But the unpredictable nature of the emergency department has proved challenging, she said.

"There have been times, no question, where people have been frustrated," she said.

"There have been some incredible challenges faced by the emergency department that are not related to the new information system at all. Patients who have been really sick and major traumas."

Despite the bumpy start, the new system will improve patient safety because doctors and nurses will be able to immediately enter patient information into the mobile workstations, rather than writing it down and deciphering the notes later, Claiter-Larsen said.

Nurses' union monitoring

The British Columbia Nurses' Union is monitoring the impact of the digital transition on staff and patients after some members raised concerns about difficulties with the new equipment, said president Gayle Duteil.

"We've been hearing from nurses that they feel like they are nursing their computers as opposed to the patients and we don't want that, so we will have to see how things progress," she said.

"There is a larger issue of health authorities getting onto one system for the benefit of the whole province, and I think it's is a positive step, but we need to make sure the resources are in place to support this transition."

Island Health officials say trainers may be at the Nanaimo hospital for up to eight weeks to support staff as they learn the new system.

Island Health signed an agreement with a company called Cerner Corporation in 2013 to move to the digital health records.