New app will let Albertans see their own health records

The province is about to launch a new online portal, giving Albertans access to some of their personal health information through their computer, tablet or smartphone.

Province set to launch online portal giving Albertans access to their personal health info

Dr. Ted Jablonski, Calgary-based family physician, says the new health information portal will help people with a medical diagnosis better manage their care and could reduce the number of patients calling in to his office for lab test results. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Alberta Health is set to launch a new tool, in the coming weeks, that will give patients access to some of their personal health information online.

The MyHealth Record portal is designed to be used on computers, tablets or smartphones and the province confirms it is in the final consultation process with physicians and other healthcare providers.

According to a web page for health-care professionals, patients will be able to view some lab tests — including results for cholesterol, iron, kidney and liver function — immunization records and their medication history. Lab results are expected to come with links to information about the tests and the results.

"I think it'll be a very positive thing for patients," said Dr. Ted Jablonski, a Calgary-based family physician whose clinic often takes calls from patients who want to find out about their lab work.

"A patient now can look at their own personal data and not have to phone a clinic or get something faxed [or emailed]... Everything takes a lot of time...This is so efficient and so advanced."

Jablonski says the portal — which will also let patients upload and track information from health devices such as glucose monitors, blood pressure monitors and fitness trackers — will be particularly helpful for people who have a diagnosed health condition and want to stay on top of it.

"They want to know … I'm putting in all this effort, I'm on these meds, am I doing better in real terms?"

Physician regulator behind the portal

Both the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) support the new portal and have been working to prepare doctors.

"This is an idea that the Alberta Medical Association has supported for many years," said Dr. Alison M. Clarke, president of the AMA, in a statement emailed to CBC News.

"Patients will be more active participants in their own care and in their relationships with their specialists or personal family physicians. It's a very good thing for the health-care system."

A doctor wearing an overcoat.
Dr. Eddy Lang is department head of emergency medicine in the Calgary zone. (Submitted by Dr. Eddy Lang)

'New paradigm'

Dr. Eddy Lang, head of emergency medicine in Calgary, sees this as a shift in the way medical care is provided in Alberta.

"I think the days of going to the doctor and them advising you on what you should do or what you should get are coming to an end," said Lang, who thinks patients will benefit from being able to review certain health information ahead of appointments.

"We can empower patients to be partners in decision making, which is really a new paradigm in medicine."

Health info already collected electronically

"This is really the wave of the future," said Tom Keenan, digital security expert and professor in the faculty of environmental design at the University of Calgary. He points out Alberta Health already keeps personal health information in an electronic health record — Netcare.

"All we're really talking about here is giving you access to some of it."

University of Calgary Prof. Tom Keenan says not all hospitals are lax when it comes to IT security, and that it varies across Canada of how well hospitals treat the issue. (Kate Adach/CBC)

With so many Albertans generating personal health information through devices such as fitness trackers, Keenan sees it as an inevitable development.

"I'm all in favour of a good old Canadian government saying, 'We'll provide a repository for this instead of you sending your data down to Google, because who knows, their site could get hacked, too'. So, as long as they do it right, I think it's a great idea."

 "The question is, of course, is it going to be well protected? And time will tell," he said.

According to the information provided to doctors and other health-care providers, Albertans will have to sign up to use the portal and information will be protected with user authentication and data encryption. It's also supposed to be tested regularly by third-party security auditors.

So far, Keenan likes what he sees.

"The really deep stuff — the stuff that you've been in the hospital and had MRIs — those are not going to be available in the public portal and I think that's a good idea," he said.

Unnecessary appointments

One risk, according to Keenan, is people may panic when they see test results they don't understand, prompting unnecessary doctors' appointments.

"That's inevitable and it will calm down after a while," said Keenan.

It's something Alberta Health has considered. It's promising to provide links to medical information to help explain the tests and says public-health nurses at Healthlink — the province's health information phone line — will also be able to answer questions about information released on MyHealth Record.

The web site for doctors states: "Many health systems report net benefit from providing patients access to laboratory test results. Concerns that such access will drive additional workload do not typically materialize or persist … Easy access to lab test results can reduce the frequency of follow-up phone-ins and visits."

For his part, Dr. Ted Jablonski isn't overly worried about it. He says doctors and patients will adjust.

"Do we have to manage this? You know the anxious patient will be a challenge. But the anxious patient is already a challenge and we manage that."

Alberta Health plans to add more features in the months and years after MyHealth Record is launched.


Jennifer Lee


Jennifer Lee is a CBC News reporter based in Calgary. She worked at CBC Toronto, Saskatoon and Regina before landing in Calgary in 2002. If you have a health or human interest story to share, let her know.