New Brunswick

Province gives up on single e-health records provider for doctors' offices

The New Brunswick Medical Society will shut down a company it launched to serve as the exclusive provider of a costly electronic medical records system for doctors' offices in the province.

New Brunswick government, medical society shift to allowing doctors to use any providers

Physicians like Dr. Ben Hoyt, shown in 2013, use the Velante electronic medical records system in their offices. Now, the province will allow doctors to choose the technology provider they prefer.

The New Brunswick Medical Society will shut down a company it launched to serve as the exclusive provider of a costly electronic medical records system for doctors' offices in the province.

Velante Inc.'s operations will be "wound down" within 18 months, said society CEO Anthony Knight. He hopes its 10 employees in Fredericton will be hired by the software vendor Velante used, Intrahealth, though it does not have an office in the capital.

It comes as a result of the provincial government's decision to allow doctors to use other software providers in the hope that more physicians use electronic records over paper files.

Electronic medical records, or EMR, allow physicians in family practice and at clinics to create digital files to record and receive a patient's medical information, including real-time test results. 

A family doctor, for instance, can be viewing a patient's file and click a button that allows access to the provincial system, Knight said. 

Doctors wanted choice

He said the society was informed that the province had decided to move to an "open market" for electronic records technology providers within the past week. The society supports the move.

"Some doctors have told us that they would like more choice, more options in the sphere of electronic medical records," Knight said.

"So what this change does is it enables other EMR vendors to consider whether New Brunswick is a place they would like to make their product connect to the health system and offer their product to physicians to serve their patients in the province."

How the privacy of patients will be protected with so many private operators is an issue the Department of Health will have to consider when it begins talks with potential EMR vendors, said Eric Lewis, a spokesperson for the medical society.

"There will be a privacy standard that all vendors must adhere to," he said.

There will be an 18-month transition period to the open market. Knight said patients likely won't notice any difference. If more doctors begin using electronic records, it could help doctors streamline their clinical practice, he said.

Anthony Knight, CEO of the New Brunswick Medical Society, says Velante Inc.'s operations will be 'wound down' within 18 months and its software provider, Intrahealth, will be one of the providers doctors can use for electronic records. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

"In the near term, it should be business as usual for both doctors and patients," Knight said.

The province announced the change in a news release Wednesday, saying the decision was made after an "extensive review" of the system.

Ted Flemming, the provincial health minister, said what was leading-edge technology six years ago isn't today, and the change allows doctors the option to pick what works for them. 

"It's just the right thing to do."

Flemming was previously critical of the system as health minister in 2014 when Velante's initial enrolment fell short of its target, which he linked to the high cost for doctors to install the system. He wouldn't say if cost was a factor in the province's decision. 

Health Minister Ted Flemming says the move will allow doctors to pick the technology that works best for them. (CBC)

The system affected by the move is separate from one established for records of patients who deal with provincial institutions, such as hospitals. Those systems are connected to allow records such as test results to be transferred.

Velante was the only technology allowed to interact with the provincial system. Flemming said new systems won't have any issues working with each other. 

"There's no difficulty there."

Missed initial target

Velante was established as a a for-profit company in 2012 to implement and deliver the electronic medical record system for doctors' offices. 

The medical society was the majority owner of Velanté, which awarded a contract for electronic medical records to Intrahealth, a New Zealand company. The society initially hoped to have 500 of the province's 1,600 doctors use the system by the end of 2013. 

The system cost about $24,000 per doctor, CBC reported in 2013. The province initially offered a subsidy of $4,000, with doctors required to pay $8,000 to join the system. A federal arm's-length agency, Canada Health Infoway, covered the rest. 

But only 240 doctors had signed up by February 2014. Lately, 355 doctors have been using the Velante system out of the 700 who are eligible. 

It's not an issue for specialists and other doctors working out of hospitals, since they use the hospital records system.

In 2018, Velante's financial statements indicate a profit of $821,861, though it received a provincial subsidy of $2,604,348.

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

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