Alberta to launch portal so patients can track health data online

In the not too distant future, you’ll be able to book a medical appointment, track your cholesterol level, or check your blood tests in a new patient health portal through Alberta Health Services.

'They always say no news is good news, but the best news is to see that your test is negative'

A stock picture of medical records.
Alberta Health is launching a patient portal in early 2017 to give the public access to personal health information. (CBC)

In the not too distant future, Albertans will  be able to book a medical appointment, track their cholesterol level, or check their blood tests in a new patient health portal through Alberta Health Services.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says the new system is intended to put more power into patient hands.

"Getting results from their lab tests to making sure they (patients) know that a referral has been received by the specialist, that's a piece of technology we're hoping to get into the hands of many Albertans."

Hoffman said pilot projects to test the portal were conducted throughout 2016 and Alberta will proceed slowly, to ensure it's safe and secure. Once available, she says, the additional information will offer peace of mind to anxious patients.

"I know if I've had a referral or a test, they always say 'no news is good news', but the best news is to see that your test is negative or you've had a clean bill of health."

The gradual digitization of health delivery has been in the works for more than a decade, as physicians were encouraged to convert walls of paper files to computer folders.

Key priorities

Canada Health Infoway, a non-profit agency funded by the federal government, has committed $22.4 million to Alberta Health to support the personal health portal project since 2011.
Shelagh Maloney with Canada Health Infoway says patients will become empowered by gaining more access to their personal health information (supplied)

Shelagh Maloney, vice president of consumer health at Canada Health Infoway, says Canadians have identified key priorities, including access to lab results, a medication list, and the ability to renew prescriptions through "E-visits or E-consults."

"One of the myths is people won't understand the information when they see it," said Maloney, who emphasized patients will learn how to interpret their results.

"If you have a chronic disease, you might not understand your lab result the first time or the second time you see it. But when you're accustomed to seeing it, you know not only what's normal, but what's normal for you."

Security is at the forefront of the health information launch and Maloney says audit tracking has now become highly sophisticated providing for more personal information protection than having everything on paper.

"But people have to be diligent and they have to be very careful in terms of who they provide access to. It's like online banking."

Final preparations underway

Alberta Health spokesperson Lisa Shankaruk said the Personal Health Record project was first piloted in 2013, with 200 chronic disease patients taking part. Since then,1,000 additional selected patients have tested the system through an early enrolment.

"The Personal Health Record technical work is complete and final preparations are underway to launch the system to the public in early 2017," she said in an email.

Shankaruk said MyHealth.Alberta.ca will be the public access point for their personal health records.

This fiscal year the project cost is expected to be $9.5 million.

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto was the first in Canada to offer its patients virtual access to their health records in 2011, using an online network called MyChart. However, Ontario does not have a provincewide patient portal.

Nova Scotia plans to go online with its patient portal midway through 2017, and Saskatchewan ran a six month trial last year for 1,200 residents.