Kitchener-Waterloo

Access to narcotic information will improve patient care, ER doctor says

For the first time, a select number of Ontario doctors have been given access to prescription information, stored in the provincial government's narcotics monitoring system.

3 local organizations, including Guelph General Hospital, part of eHealth pilot project

Dr. Ian Digby says many who come through the emergency department can't recall what medications they take or the details of recent medical procedures. (John Panella/Shutterstock)

For the first time, a select number of Ontario doctors have been given access to prescription information, stored in the provincial government's narcotics monitoring system.

The doctors, who practice at three organizations in Guelph, are participating in an eHealth Ontario pilot project, known as the digital health drug repository.

"The narcotics medications are the newest add-on to this," said Dr. Ian Digby, who works in the emergency department at the Guelph General Hospital. "But there's a lot of other information that we're able to get now, that we weren't a year or two ago."

The other two organizations included in the pilot are the Guelph Community Health Centre and the Guelph Family Health Team.

When the project launched in early September 2016, the organizations were able to search for information on any given individual, obtained through the Ontario Drug Benefit program.

In December, the Clinical Connect database expanded, allowing doctors to search for information stored in the Narcotics Monitoring System, which is the government's record of every prescription filled in Ontario for one of the drugs listed under its Narcotics Strategy.

Information a game changer

Digby said having all that information available at his fingertips has been a game changer when a patient rolls through the emergency department doors.

I'm able to see a diagnostic image that was done at another facility, and this helps reduce duplication and extra cost and extra radiation exposure to the patient.- Dr. Ian Digby

"Many people who come in a state of crisis – emergency departments are always stressful, of course – they can't recall what they do take, they don't know the names of complex medications, they don't remember the dates or details of things that have happened recently," he said.

"As long as I have some demographic information, some way to identify them – ideally a health card – then I'm able to log into the system and find out information on them."

Benefits the whole system

With one click, Digby says he can get a list of medications, blood work, diagnostic images, x-rays, CAT scans and more, from hospitals and medical labs located across southwestern Ontario.

"I've had a number of cases in the last year where I've been able to avoid having to do tests, because I'm able to get lab information, for instance, from Clinical Connect," he said. "I'm able to see a diagnostic image that was done at another facility, and this helps reduce duplication and extra cost and extra radiation exposure to the patient."

Digby says the addition of the narcotics information is particularly encouraging, given the recent opioid crisis facing cities across Canada.

"This is the best opportunity we've had yet to identify people who are maybe using the system inappropriately, and also to protect patients who are using it properly, but are just having complications from interactions with their medications," he said.

"This is going to provide just an extra level of information for us about recent prescriptions, duplicate prescriptions, those sorts of things that we keep our eyes out for."

The goal of the pilot project is to perfect the platform from which the doctors access the drug and lab information, and then to make the same information available to other doctors in southwestern Ontario.

Officials with eHealth Ontario told CBC News they plan on expanding the service into the Greater Toronto Area in the spring.