Ottawa hospitals upgrade medical record system

Three Ottawa medical facilities will be implementing a new medical record system they say will allow health care providers to share and access patient records across a single network.

6 health care providers will access medical records across single network

The Ottawa Hospital is one of three medical facilities that will implement the Epic record sharing system. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Three Ottawa medical facilities will be implementing a new medical record system they say will allow health care providers to share and access patient records across a single network but the hospital says it will have to borrow money to cover the cost of the new system.

The Ottawa Hospital, The Ottawa Hospital Academic Family Health Team and the University of Ottawa Heart Institute will be integrating their records with the Epic Health Information System by Epic Systems Corporation, a health information technology company.

The goal is that doctors will have all a patient's information when they treat them, even if they are usually treated in a different hospital.

System to plunge Ottawa Hospital into further debt

The new system will cost about $87 million over seven years, but it's not clear how much individual hospitals will have to pay because it will be shared among the facilities and with three other partners in Eastern Ontario.

Shafique Shamji, the hospital's Chief Information Officer, said sharing the cost has resulted in some mild savings.

Still, he said the cost will be substantial. The hospital will have to borrow most of the money needed to pay for it, at a time when both the hospital and the province are trying to tighten their belt on healthcare spending.

Frankly, there's certain projects we're not going to be able to do because we're doing this project,- Shafique Shamji, Chief Information Officer of the Ottawa Hospital

According to the hospital's consolidated financial statements for 2017, the hospital is carring $7.2 million in long-term debt. 

"Frankly, there's certain projects we're not going to be able to do because we're doing this project," he said.

Shamji said the province made it clear the hospital would have to pay for the program from within its existing budget.

Hospital chief of staff Dr. Virginia Roth said there's no layoffs planned as part of the implementation of the new system, and patient care will not be compromised as a result of the cost.

Electronic records save lives, hospital officials say

Roth said the system could have a massive impact on patient care. The current system is about 25 years old. 

Right now, she said doctors don't always have the information they need to make informed decisions for patients.

"The patient makes the effort to come in, you know, to park, to see me at the hospital and we can't even come to a good conclusion or a plan for care because I don't have the information that I need at the time," Roth said.

She said having quick access to records can save time, which can save lives.

Implementing the new record sharing systems is part of an Ontario Ministry of Health initiative to have hospitals implement digital information systems in clusters.

The ministry wants hospitals to partner together to share costs of implementing new systems, but also to ensure efficient information sharing between the partnered organizations.

The three Ottawa facilities will be implementing the new system in tandem with Hawkesbury and District General Hospital, Renfrew Victoria Hospital, and St. Francis Memorial Hospital in Barry's Bay.

Epic is scheduled to go live in June 2019.

With files from the CBC's Laura Osman