Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut August 17, 2012 - 7:19 am

Nunavut government passes half-way point in digitizing health records

“It’s definitely improved the information we have for the patients”

DAVID MURPHY
Martin Joy, director of health information for the Government of Nunavut, sitting in his office Aug. 16. He said the GN is slowly converting patient health records produced paper into digital form. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)
Martin Joy, director of health information for the Government of Nunavut, sitting in his office Aug. 16. He said the GN is slowly converting patient health records produced paper into digital form. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

After 18 months of work on creating new electronic health records, the health care system in Nunavut is already benefitting, Martin Joy, director of health information for the Government of Nunavut, said this week.

Nunavut’s health record system will move closer to an all-digital system after an Aug. 16 upgrade, Joy said.

But many challenges still face the GN in its plan to convert an old paper-based system into an electronic format. Right now, the ratio of paper to electronic records is about 50-50.

It may never become a fully digital system due to the enormous amount of paper-based information, Joy said. But he said the system will become more digital over the next three to five years.

The challenges include big staff turnover in health care, and Nunavut’s slow satellite-based internet systems, which slows down the process of sharing information.

The lack of up-to-date technology in the North also doesn’t help, and the “expertise to actually implement this stuff is challenging as well.”

But the benefits of the electronic system, such as the reduction of wait times in hospitals, outweigh the challenges by far. 

“I can’t say it’s saved peoples lives per say, but it’s definitely improved the information that we have for the patients,” Joy said.

“Now we have the three regional hubs, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay, and [Iqaluit] — they now have access to all the patient information,” he said.

This means doctors can pull up information about any patient in Nunavut faster than before before.

The new upgrade means the software now has technological enhancements that speed up the system, for example.

But the privacy of such health information wascalled into question in the March sitting of the Legislative Assembly.

The standing committee on oversight of government operations and public accounts wants the GN to update them on health records and information sharing between departments.

They’ve asked for health-specific privacy legislation, something Privacy Commissioner Elaine Keenan-Bengts said Nunavut needs, in her 2009-10 report.

So far, Joy said there have been no breaches to the new system, and those with access may look only at certain information.

“You have to have credentials to get in, and you have to have steps before you can get into the record. So there hasn’t been a breach yet,” Joy said. “If you’re a registration clerk, you only have access to see the patients’ demographics. Whereas a doctor would have access to your whole record so he can treat you — lab results, pharmacy, diagnostic imagery. And a nurse might see an inpatient file.”

No complaints have been filed for a breaches of privacy since the system was implemented, and the physical servers that store the information are securely locked in high-security government facilities, Joy said.

“It’s a safe as we can make it. To date it’s a lifetime secure record,” he said.

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